Review / photos: Death Cab For Cuie trade Langerado for a sold-out House of Blues in Orlando
This weekend was supposed to kick off a grand month of music in Florida — next weekend’s DeLuna Fest in Pensacola, Magnolia Fest and the Bear Creek Music Festival in Live Oak, Orlando Calling at the Citrus Bowl. And it was all supposed to begin with the Langerado Music Festival in Sunrise on Saturday and Sunday.
Then, suddenly, Langerado was canceled. Yet again.
Then there’s headliner Death Cab For Cutie. They were supposed to headline Langerado 2009, too, but for the second time in three years, the festival pulled the rug out from under them. So the group turned Langerado into lemonade and quickly booked a replacement gig at the House of Blues in Orlando. As a Death Cab diehard, that was close enough for me.
Packing the sold-out house almost as soon as the doors opened, fans from around Central Florida were treated to a generous, career-spanning set by one of the biggest indie rock bands of the past decade. For them, it was probably better that it worked out this way — wouldn’t you want to see your favorite band in a small club instead of a massive outdoor festival? Thought so.
Frontman Ben Gibbard made but one passing mention of Langerado, saying, “We’re very happy to be here playing for you.” Instead, he let his music do the talking — and from the thundering bass buildup of I Will Possess Your Heart, the Washington four-piece had the crowd in its clutches.
The band’s latest album, Codes and Keys, is far from my favorite — and I say that as someone who’s given it multiple listens this summer. So for me, at least, it was a pleasant surprise that the band only played a few songs from Codes; of these, the pulsing, indie-punkish Doors Unlocked and Open and the rousing folk singalong Stay Young, Go Dancing had the crowd dancing the most. All the new tracks sounded more organic live than on Codes, and the newly sober and slender Gibbard sounds more in control of his swoon-worthy voice.
Most of the set featured songs from Death Cab’s three previous albums. Plans, in particular, got plenty of love, with its up-tempo rockers (Crooked Teeth, Soul Meets Body) and cell-cam-worthy ballads (I Will Follow You Into The Dark, What Sarah Said and the impossibly emotive Brothers on a Hotel Bed).
For its most show-stopping material, the band turned to its biggest, most adventurous album: Transatlanticism. Here, the other three Death Cabbers could let their impeccable musicianship shine. Stoic guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla (I bet he’d get along well with Jonny Greenwood) took a backseat to Gibbard on most guitar leads, but it is his precise playing that gives Death Cab’s music its depth and warmth (see: the lonesome guitar lick from the song Transatlanticism). Bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr were positioned off to the left corner of the stage, not to marginalize them, but to keep the rhythm ticking perfectly, which they always do. Harmer couldn’t help grinning at the clapping crowd during the section of The New Year where his bass drops out (“So everybody put your best suit or dress on...”).
On the group’s show-stopping pre-encore closer, Transatlanticism’s We Looked Like Giants, Walla and Harmer traded instruments, before trading back mid-song so Walla could play piano and Gibbard could rock out on a mini drum kit. It was a stunning wall of sound that showcased the band’s all-around dynamism. Mr. Zooey Deschanel may be the star of the show, but like R.E.M. or Radiohead, Death Cab wouldn’t be Death Cab without the other guys in the band.
Only a few truly early tracks made the cut — Company Calls and Photobooth, from the We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes era; and the sublime Your Bruise, from Something About Airplanes — but that was fine. Codes aside, Death Cab For Cutie has aged remarkably well, evolving and adding to their repertoire with each album.
Death Cab wisely booked a great Florida band to open this last-minute show: Surfer Blood. The West Palm Beach boys are one of Florida’s biggest indie rock success stories of the past few years, and it’s not hard to see why.
Boyish and unassuming onstage, singer John Paul Pitts comes across like a kid who was out getting drunk and listening to Pinkerton the same night Ezra Koenig was studying for midterms. But he shares with the Vampire Weekend singer an adventurous sonic spirit, from the skittery worldbeat of Take It Easy to the sleek pop punk of Fast Jabroni. The new song Miranda, from their upcoming Tarot Classics EP, blends ’90s fuzz with an earnest retro melody.
Though they cut their set short by a song, it was a crowd-pleasing set from one of Florida’s fastest-rising groups. Their recorded output may be gleefully grungy, but live, they sound less like Yo La Tengo and more like a young Weezer. If Langerado ever makes a comeback, they should start by calling these guys.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*