Since its construction in the ’40s, the art deco-ish Ridglea Theater near downtown Fort Worth has played host to everything from weddings and movies to Christian hair metal (Stryper is playing here in a week.)
On a recent autumn evening, it welcomed indie-turned-major-label rock band Death Cab for Cutie.
Much has been made about the fifth Death Cab album, Plans, and the fact that it’s the quartet’s first Atlantic release. And judging from the line stretching around the venue and “Sold Out” posters when we arrive, it’s clear the word is out about these talented Seattle-based rockers.
Following an energetic and inspired set by Montreal’s Stars, the fog machines began signaling Death Cab’s arrival at 10:15. Wasting little time getting into the new album, Ben Gibbard and his carload of merry men (Nick Harmer, bass; Chris Walla, keyboards/guitar/vocals; Jason McGerr, drums) burst right into Plans’ opening track “Marching Bands of Manhattan.”
Dressed in black with a blonde electric guitar slung around his neck, Gibbard swayed rapidly back and forth while passionately singing. What the Ridglea lacked in stage décor—a blank white canvas behind the band combined with colorful lights casting shadows like a Cure “Boys Don’t Cry” video—the combo made up for in energy and musicianship. Of course, this is an outfit that doesn’t need Green Day pyrotechnics to beef up a show; the music speaks for itself.
And the musicianship was spot on, with band members switching instruments nearly every song. On “Title and Registration” for instance, Gibbard grabbed a drumstick to play toms set up near his mic stand while Walla moved over to the keys.
As they worked their way through Transatlanticism's “The New Year” and The Photo Album’s “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” Gibbard addressed the throng to make sure everyone was drinking enough water. Later in the evening, a roadie Gibbard calls the “water fairy” took the stage and distributed bottled water to members of the group as well as concertgoers.
Adequately hydrated, the crowd’s first all-out sing-along came five songs in as the crowd joined in the “bada-bada-bah-bah”s of “Soul Meets Body,” and impressively kept it going with the words to most of the songs (even “President of What?” from debut album Something About Airplanes).
After dedicating “Crooked Teeth” to opener Stars, the group touched all corners of their catalog with “Different Names for the Same Thing,” “A Movie Script Ending,” “Company Calls,” Plans standout track “What Sarah Said” (with Gibbard on keyboards) and “Expo ’86.” Leaving the stage after a raucous “The Sound Of Settling,” the buzz in the room built in anticipation of the band’s return.
When Gibbard came back on alone with his acoustic guitar for the four-song encore, the crowd went crazy. But it wasn’t until the first notes of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” and the accompanying high-pitched shrill that is was clear a generation had picked their latest favorite song, or at least a soon-to-be prom night favorite.
The rest of DCFC came back on stage to perform “Title Track” from We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes and “Tiny Vessels” which featured both Walla and Harmer on bass. Gibbard once again got behind the keys for the hour-and-a-half, 20-song-set closer “Transatlanticism.” The epic number was the perfect end to a perfect rock show building to a bombastic drum crash courtesy of McGerr.
Earlier in the evening, as we stood in line under the marquee of glowing green, an attendee was overheard to say: “I have a feeling this is the last time we're going to see Death Cab in a small venue.” Given the band’s inexorable climb, that prediction could prove accurate.