Last night I went to see Death Cab for Cutie at the Shaw Conference Centre. It was downstairs, in a venue that I’d previously experienced as a large carpeted banquet room. I went straight from work, and my concertgoing experience started when one of the crowd of eight v. young people on my train car called out “Anybody going to Death Cab?” and I said “I am” as I walked to my seat and got out my e-reader. “Really??” they asked, and then asked which station to get off at and how to get there from the station, and whether I would tell them when the station was coming up. A disreputable fellow sitting next to me thought this was really funny, asked whether I was a teacher, and asked whether I needed his rolled up Metro paper to keep them in line. Then there were some questions like “Why do YOU like Death Cab?” and “What’s your favourite song of theirs?” and “Have you heard their new single?” (I hadn’t, I’m waiting to get the album) that amused me but also made me feel like a weirdo.
Crowd control measures in the Shaw included turning off all the escalators and letting people move off the stairs a few at a time. Pre-warned by a friend, I checked my bag with knitting in it. I didn’t get patted down, I bought a tour shirt at the merch table, and inside the venue I went through the ID-checking corral to get a wristband to let me enter the “beer garden” – a lighted space at the far back where adults could buy and drink alcohol. It was $6 a drink, and although I usually think it’s a good sign when the beer’s something I’ve never heard of, Molson Old Style Pilsner isn’t. At least they let me hold the can, rather than pouring into bad plastic, though. I talked to my pub-knitting friend Wendy and friends of hers, and then decided to head into the floor crowd before the end of the opening act Bright Eyes to see how close I could get.
Moving up slowly when other people left got me to within about 10 standees of the stage, where I stuck it out for more than half the Death Cab set until I got overheated and restless, so I watched the rest from the beer garden and the back of the floor. There were also shallow bleachers on both sides of the floor.
It was a good show. They didn’t chatter much, although they did thank the opening musicians, say that it had been too long since they’d visited Edmonton (5 yrs?) and remind us their new album’s coming out Tuesday. The sound quality was good enough that I could hear sufficient lyrics of the few unfamiliar songs to work out what they were afterwards. Ben Gibbard’s voice was very recognisable, but since I hadn’t done any homework I didn’t know which of the other guys were which. If you don’t know Death Cab for Cutie, I could say that they’re described as “alternative rock” or “indie rock”, but they seem to be on the mainstream end of that, not as hard-edged as some of what I listen to. They have clever sad singable lyrics.
Unfortunately I’ve lost my setlist and notes, but it turns out that now last.fm is linked with setlist.fm, so I have access to a consensus version. They didn’t do all their most famous songs, but it was a good mix across most of their albums.
My ears were not ringing at all afterwards. It didn’t seem too loud at the time even though I didn’t bother with earplugs, and my part of the crowd was quite civilised (an awful lot of them were young girls about my height, which was handy.) I love standing up close to the stage feeling the bass in my chest with just enough space to move with the beat – but as I’ve said before, I wish there were venues with the civilised comforts of Edmonton Folk Music Festival or Blue Skies and more of this kind of music. What I need to do next is to check out some of the bar venues, such as Starlite Room or Pawnshop, and I’ve been reluctant to do that by myself because I always feel horribly self-conscious and vulnerable as a demographically-atypical newbie.
More than at any of the other concerts I’ve been to, I was struck by the high level of smartphone use. When Bright Eyes had some technical difficulty for a minute, their frontman cracked “Just hang on a minute, go back to playing Angry Birds on your phones or else experience the real live 3-D music the way it happens.” I took some photos and video – and it was quite difficult to do so without anyone else’s iphone viewfinder in the way. I can see that it detracts from the sense of intimacy with the musicians in the days when everyone was just swaying and singing and waving lighters, and I could also notice in myself that the temptation to get the perfect setlist and best picture and video of a whole song were distancing me a bit from the sensation (but I’d still be doing the setlist thing with a pen, anyway). But everything that I was doing on line and everything I was close enough to read on other people’s phones was all about the concert. So … I dunno. Here are some pictures, though.
The picture of the set-up crew was basically to show how close I was and test whether it would be hopeless to try to take pictures of the band. Other patrons were using the digital zoom on their phones, but I try not to use digital zoom and just crop as needed afterwards, and that’s about as good as I got holding the phone at head level. My videos aren’t bad, but the sound quality is crap and I would keep forgetting not to move, so the picture bounces.