Death Cab for Cutie and Stars take on Toronto’s Olympic Island

setting up for stars

It was hot as hell in Toronto this past weekend – way beyond my normal comfort zone. I’m a definitively 20-25 degree person. When the temperature gauge crosses 30 and goes to 35, count me out. But there was no avoiding the heat on Saturday at the near-annual Olympic Island Festival.

The near-yearly concert (I think it skipped last year) was started by Sloan back in 2004 and at the time featured only Canadian bands. It’s become both smaller (only four bands) and broader (hello Americans!) in the time since, and this year the headliners paired one of Canada’s most popular indie bands with America’s most popular post-indie sensation.

Stars

Stars

Despite the fact that their music would perhaps work better with a light show, Stars didn’t suffer one bit for taking place in the early evening sun. With a stage decked out with flowers, a love fest was in order, and a love fest is what we got (in both directions).

Stars are a band about hyperdrama – of taking little moments and blowing them into epic adventures; a Springsteenian tinge to songs about teenage love and teenage politics. Somehow they’re able to pull this off without seeming like a bunch of indulgent wankers. On the record, they get away with this simply by virtue of the fact that they generally write really great songs. Live, they depend on the stageplay of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. The former spends the entire set bouncing to every corner of the stage, moving from keyboards to trumpet as the need arises. The latter spends most of her time with a guitar around her neck, moving out to perform vocals like “My Favourite Book.” And when their voices gel, it’s hard not to get caught up in the electric energy.

The setlist was pretty impeccable too. Looking back over their past three records, there’s little else I was looking to hear. They hit the big singles, the most memorable album tracks and a few odd gems to keep things interesting. They also carefully reduced the somewhat-disappointing In Our Bedroom After the War to its most essentially moments. And they tore into all of them with every breath they had going for them. It was an exhilarating set that, really, I don’t have too much to say about – it was just really damn awesome.

Setlist:

1. The Beginning After the End
2. The Night Starts Here
3. Soft Revolution
4. Window Bird
5. Reunion
6. Bitches in Tokyo
7. Set Yourself on Fire
8. Going, Going, Gone
9. My Favourite Book
10. What I’m Trying to Say
11. Elevator Love Letter
12. Midnight Coward
13. One More Night
14. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
15. Take Me to the Riot
16. In Our Bedroom After the War
17. The Woods

Stars

Stars

Stars

Stars

Stars

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

I won’t win points with many in the band’s devoted fanbase by saying this, but I think that Narrow Stairs might just be the best record that Death Cab have ever put out. It’s a perfect marriage of the raw energy of their earlier records with the soundscapes that Chris Walla started to really tinker with around the time of Transatlanticism. There’s a couple of missteps, as there has been with each of the band’s records, but the most impressive material showcases some of the band’s catchiest and most engaging musicianship. And while Gibbard’s lyrics generally lack the semi-witty platitudes of his past work, he’s gained a welcome storyteller’s voice in the process.

I almost wish Death Cab had played more of Narrow Stairs in their headlining slot at the Olympic Island Festival, but I appreciate the challenge for a band whose core fanbase is pretty devoted to their older independent records. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the older tracks the band played – “Photobooth,” “A Movie Script Ending,” “President of What” – were little more than token gestures. The band’s heart was clearly in its newer material from the past three records, which was simply more playful, more interesting and more fun.

Ballad-hungry fans no-doubt swooned over the solo version of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” but it was in the long, drawn out jams that Death Cab seemed most at home. On the record, “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “Transatlantism” can drag a bit, but live they’re both triumphs of build and anticipation, and brilliant showcases for exactly the band that Death Cab wants to be these days. They built around those songs with the requisite hits and fan favourites, and came across as a much more accomplished band that I expected. They’re no longer “those does that Seth listened to on the O.C.” -which, considering that’s how most of North America learned this band existed, is pretty impressive.

Setlist:

1. Bixby Canyon Bridge
2. The New Year
3. Why You’d Want to Live Here
4. Photobooth
5. President of What?
6. Crooked Teeth
7. Long Division
8. Grapevine Fires
9. A Movie Script Ending
10. Company Calls
11. Soul Meets Body
12. I Will Follow You Into the Dark
13. I Will Possess Your Heart
14. Cath…
15. We Laugh Indoors
16. The Sound of Settling
17. Marching Bands of Manhattan

Encore:
18. Title and Registration
19. 405
20. Company Calls Epilogue
21. Your Heart is an Empty Room
22. Transatlanticism

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Edit: For all the Haligonians out there, Sonic Concerts just announced the first ever SummerSonic festival on Citadel Hill for July 19-20, featuring such acts as City and Colour, The Weakerthans, Tokyo Police Club and Wintersleep. Its relevance to this story: Stars are headlining the second day’s events. Given how drop-dead awesome their Toronto show was, I highly suggest you consider attending if you’re anywhere near the Halifax area. Details are at summersonic.ca

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2 responses to “Death Cab for Cutie and Stars take on Toronto’s Olympic Island

  1. As McNutt’s weekend-concert-buddy/comedic foil, I fully endorse this blog post!

    Both acts put forward a great (but very different) set. When I saw Stars back in November (which I’m going to cheaply plug right here http://getglenergized.blogspot.com/2007/11/stars-week-concluded.html) I knew that they were going to kick all sorts of ass, but like McNutt mentioned, I thought that they may be hurt by the day-time out-door venue.

    Needless to say, I was glad that I was wrong. Torq and Amy kept their amazing stage presence up, and as usual their voices melded together to make some super voice. I think that I was most impressed for “Elevator Love Letter”, but dang do I ever wish that they had busted out “On Peak Hill” for me.

    As for Death Cab….wow….they also were full of awesome! I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of “Transatlantacism” and “I Will Possess Your Heart”, they sounded much better, and much more natural, live than they do on either album.

    All in all, it rocked. Haligonians….GO TO THAT SHOW!!!! You can finally say that you have a concert line-up that makes a Toronto kid jealous….

  2. Pingback: …in which McNutt is floored by Neil Young + Wilco live in Halifax « McNutt Against the Music·

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