Sunday, October 17, 2004

Death Cab For Cutie, Travis Morrison / First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN / Oct. 16, 2004

By MITM Minneapolis Bureau Chief Pat Feghali

In a perfect world, all rock shows would be all ages. In a perfect world, everyone would come in time for the opening band. In a perfect world, the guy at the soundboard would be able to make both the soft and the hard parts of the songs sound equally clear and amazing.

Too bad this isn’t a perfect world.

The Death Cab for Cutie/Travis Morrison show tonight at First Avenue was, to its credit, definitely an all ages show. Unfortunately, this meant that most of the over-21 crowd spent Morrison’s highly entertaining set, which seemed as much as an audition for a boy band as an opener to an rock show, in the back room of the balcony where they could drink. Now, there is nothing wrong with drinking at a show. There is something wrong with spending half or more of it in a glassed-off room where you can barely see or hear the band on stage for the express reason of getting hammered and avoiding the people who actually came to see the bands.

Morrison’s brand of hip-gyrating synth-pop seemed to go over fairly well with the under-21 crowd who were forbidden from retreating to the fortress of solitude up the back stairs, but it was obvious who the kids came to see. I tried hard to tell who came because they actually like the band and who came because Seth Cohen, fictional indie rock boy of the smash television hit The O.C., likes the band. With high school kids, though, sometimes it’s not really much of a distinction.

When they were good, Death Cab for Cutie were amazing. And when they weren’t so good, sometimes I wondered what I was doing at a somewhat boring Emo show. It wasn’t entirely the band’s fault, as it seemed like whoever was running the sound didn’t quite know how to make the loud parts sound like they consisted of more than noise and banging while Ben Gibbard’s vocals, one of the band’s best features, were all but lost in the mix. At those very unfortunate moments the band seemed more like the far less talented, less interesting groups who have since taken over MTV2’s rock programs and less like the seasoned veterans they really are.

After a muddy second half of the set (highlighted by a totally unanticipated and very enjoyable cover of Freedy Johnston’s “Bad Reputation,” which the band claimed was their first attempt at playing it live), Death Cab emerged victorious in their four-song encore, starting to shine brightly on the simple and repetitive yet somehow very endearing “I loved you Guinevere/ I loved you Guinevere/ I loved you” chorus of “We Laugh Indoors,” building up through the soft and beautiful “Tiny Vessels,” and finally emerging at the end of “Transatlanticism” with something approaching spiritual transcendence. The kids in the crowd, despite some obvious signs of immaturity, which included following Gibbard’s comment that he didn’t like the New York Yankees (who recently put the hometown crowd’s Twins out of the playoffs) with “Fuck the Yankees up the ass!” and a short-lived round of the “penis” game, seemed to be having a good time, though their enthusiasm definitely left something to be desired.

In a perfect world, this show would have lived up to its potential and blown us all away.