An uneasy weight hung in the air Tuesday night at Red Rocks as Death Cab For Cutie closed out its set with the meditative hit ballad “Transatlanticism.” The song hypnotized the sizable audience with its uncomplicated drums, its swelling builds and the repeated plea of, “I need you so much closer.”
And even though singer Ben Gibbard had made it plenty obvious that this was the last song of his band’s encore, a clear majority of the fans sat still, eyes fixed on the near-motionless stage. Sure, some hit the aisles and exits to beat the mountain amphitheater’s notorious post-show traffic. But it wasn’t as many people as you might think.
At that moment, it was hard to move – and it was surprisingly easy to stand quietly through an eight-minute slow jam. And that’s part of Death Cab’s understated power.
The group wasn’t all that adventurous in its song selection on Tuesday, and even the new jams were obvious choices, from the frenetic “Home Is A Fire” to the affable “Codes and Keys,” the title track off its latest album. So while the set list disappointed fans who wanted to hear more than one song off 2000’s “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes,” it pleased those who found Death Cab via “Transatlanticism.”
Starting the evening out with the driving, low-key ambience of “I Will Posses Your Heart” was inspired, and that later gave way to “Crooked Teeth” and a couple songs from 2001’s “The Photo Album,” “We Laugh Indoors” and “A Movie Script Ending.”
It was a treat to hear the band explore its simpler, more angular past, and they were more than comfortable in that old pair of shoes. But as the creeping guitar and measured drums of “Doors Unlocked and Open” followed that suite, the band launched into a series of new songs that sparkled and fit in along with the older material.
After a blustery “Long Division,” Gibbard threw out a casual apology: “My apologies to ‘Long Division’ fans,” he said, still out of breath from the glitchy pop song amid the Red Rocks altitude. “This show is taking place on top of the moon. And I love the moon, but it does take some adjusting to.”
And then Gibbard proudly introduced a song that takes place at sea level, “Grapevine Fires.” The song and its simple, chiming keyboard melodies was perfect for such a still Red Rocks night. The back of the amphitheater was dotted with loose groups of friends and swaying couples, and the sound was stellar back there, even in row 65.
“What Sarah Said” and “We Looked Like Giants” seemed to lack the jazz and passion of the rest of the set, but the guys made up for it with their “first love song,” according to Gibbard, which was the new “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” It was also pretty great when Gibbard started the encore by casually dedicating “Home Is a Fire” to Fort Collins-based band Candy Claws.
Even better was the solo, acoustic “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which was seemingly written to be performed at Red Rocks on a beautiful night. The haunting song’s dramatic offer is the kind of thing you should be contemplating among those giant rocks, and Gibbard understood that completely.
Tina Hagerling is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. Check out more of her concert photography.