Concerts for contest winners are always a bit of a tricky game. You run the risk of both a) alienating people who REALLY want to see said band but can’t get tickets, and b) filling the crowd with people who don’t give a shit about the band. They can be equally hard to review for those reasons.
Rogers’ Campus Battle 09 may or may not have had the first problem, but it sure didn’t have the second. Though the crowd at the McInnis Room in the Dalhouise Student Union Building was kept intimate (honestly, more intimate than I expected), it was clearly stacked with Death Cab for Cutie fans. The deafening roar calling for an encore – one of the loudest such cries I’ve heard in a long time – was clear evidence of that.
Why such a response? Probably because we’re not used to such guests in our neck of the woods. Heck, the only reason why Death Cab were able to come here was because Dalhousie University’s students (and, no doubt, some generous supporters from nearby institutions who also wanted a cool concert) voted en masse in the Rogers contest. And from there, an even smaller handfull were chosen to get tickets. So attendees were obviously quite pleased thatthe band finally made it to our shores (“Sorry we took so long to get here…we got lost along the way,” joked frontman Ben Gibbard).
(Oh and in case your’e curious, my tickets were actually acquired legitimately through the contest, not through my position at Dal. Huzzah for the system working for me instead of me working the system!)
But also, the band were totally on their game last night. The show was only marginally different than when I saw them last summer – a couple of newer and older songs were switched out, tracks from new EP thrown in, all the same hits – but once again it was clear just how much more engaging the band are with their most recent material. The few token tracks pre-Transatlanticism just don’t hit with the same sonic force; the band’s hearts are in the Chris Walla soundscapes and Ben Gibbardian pop hooks of their current work. It shows, and frankly, it more or less rocks.
I wish I had a setlist for you, but alas, another quirk of the private show is that there isn’t always the setlist grabber at the front who immediately rushes home and puts it on the Interwebs. Frontman Ben Gibbard opened the main set solo with “I Will Follow You into the Dark” and the band closed official proceedings with Plans’ opener “Marching Bands of Manhattan.” In between the tracks were spread pretty evenly between records; “I Will Possess Your Heart” killed once again, and though a ballady portion in the middle of the show dragged a bit, I was surprised just how well “Summer Skin” played live.
The encore opened with two new tracks from The Open Door EP: “Little Bribes” and “A Diamond and a Tether.” After a run through “No Sunlight” it was time for the evening’s undisputed highlight: an explosive, epic, colossal version of “Transatlanticism” that was even more monumental than the last time I saw the band. The moment Gibbard leaves the keys for his guitar the entire dymanic on stage changes, where it becomes less about quiet introspection and more about blistering noise. The final cries of “Come onnn…” could still be heard ringing through the McInnis room when the house lights went up.
Glad you enjoyed Halifax, lads. Come back anytime.