Death Cab for Cutie+Frightened Rabbit @ Admiralspalast

Ah, Death Cab. A little bit of a background story is needed here:

I travelled all the way from Vienna to Berlin, 12 hours in the night-train (I shouldn’t complain, I found cheap tickets..) just to see them live again. My dedication to live music will kill me. But I was very annoyed (and surprised, in fact)  that they didn’t come to play in Austria at all, since there is a consistent fan base here. The same might not be said about Frightened Rabbit, who seem to be sort of unknown even among hipsters and the like (no, I will not make a joke about pitchfork. not yet.) I, however, was extremely excited to see Frightened Rabbit; maybe I wouldn’t even have made the big leap, taking three days off to go see a band I’ve, äh, already witnessed live, if it wasn’t for them. Simply because two good bands are always better than one, right? So, I had been listening to the Midnight Organ Fight for a while and had already picked out my few favorites.
I will not make any names because I’ve been taught never to point the finger at anyone, BUT thanks to a certain person, I – We – were awfully late, and got to Admiralspalast as Frightened Rabbit were playing Keep Yourself Warm – which, by the way, is my favorite song of theirs. Well, I just shrugged (and thanked him for the little surprise, which was that he’d put us both on the guestlist – yippie) and enjoyed the rest of their set: two more songs, if I remember well. The band was lively, energetic, and overall enjoyable. It really made me regret not having come earlier. If you live in the UK, Australia, or the United States, be happy, because the boys will be touring so be sure to catch them somewhere.
Now, for DCfC. According to last.fm stats, this band is among my top 5 favorites. The problem with seeing a band that one really likes, live, are expectations. I had few memories of the last Death Cab concert I had gone to (sometime in 2005), but remembered that it was enthralling to say the least – I kept grinning probably long after I fell asleep, I think :) So, a lot of nervousness when, after Frightened Rabbit went offstage and the equipment was set up for the Seattle band, the lights went down and Ben Gibbard appeared on stage. He was unrecognisable at first – more than a few lost pounds, bearing a Midwest shirt and longer hair, and having either decided that he doesn’t need to see his audience or that black-rimmed glasses are out. I blushed at myself for thinking that he was starting to look like Conor Oberst.
They started off with the Employment Pages; maybe not the best one to get the audience into it, but I was glad that they at least didn’t start with something from Plans. That song slowly faded, among the clapping of the audience, into Your Heart is an Empty Room, which then faded into the New Year, which then… you get the drift. the first four songs were played with no interruption and by the time I could realise what was happening, they were already on song five and I was desperate, because I felt nothing. It was as if a screen was between me and the stage; as if everything that made Death Cab’s music powerful was suddenly sucked out of them. Looking around, though, I felt even more out of place because everyone else seemed to be having a blast.  Next up was Photobooth, the first song I ever heard by them in the winter of 2000. I don’t particularly like this song now, but it’s still special to me. So I tried to brush that feeling off and concentrated on the music, on the band and the lyrics and all the feelings that were just mine, weaved right into the core of each song. By then, I was enjoying myself more and more. That culminated in the last moments, with Grapevine Fires (one of the best songs from the new album), I Will Possess Your Heart, the amazing first single from Narrow Stairs with Ben letting go of his guitar to play the keyboard, We Looked Like Giants (another favorite of mine, so intense) and the Sound of Settling, to close off the set beautifully and cheerfully. They were of course acclaimed for five minutes, and happily returned on stage for a four-song encore. As they started off with the eerie few notes of Transatlanticism, the whole theater went quiet – it was a beautiful moment, one of the few where I really felt like the man I will forever be in love with (Ben Gibbard, of course :) ) was who I thought he was: an amazing songwriter who puts 110% of himself into his music. And who – and I am convinced of this – should leave the guitar to his guitarist to spend more time composing on the piano. Seeing him go from one to the other, I realised how much more carried away by the music he seems when he is sitting in front of a keyboard.

After the show, it was difficult for me to put that awkward feeling of deception I’d had into words; I suppose it seemed at first like the band wasn’t genuine. As if, though they had done some slight changes to the first few songs to merge them into each other, they were still trying to play exactly as they played on the records, which to me is a big mistake for any band that wants to be AMAZING live, and not just good. Sometimes it works, but sometimes the band just ends up becoming a pale reflection of itself..

The setlist was as follows:

1. the employment pages
2. your heart is an empty room
3. the new year
4. we laugh indoors
5. photobooth
6. crooked teeth
7. no sunlight
8. title track
9. grapevine fires
10. soul meets body
11. I will follow you into the dark
12. I will possess your heart
13. Cath…
14. we looked like giants
15. long division
16. the sound of settling
Encore
17. your bruise
18. title and registration
19. a movie script ending
20. transatlanticism

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