Sunday might be a sleepy day to some, but for Los Angeles alternative music lovers, staying home the night of August 11th, 2019 was simply out of the question. Two major alt bands collided for one evening of wining and dining at the Hollywood Bowl, a venue that actually encourages you to bring your own libations for once! Burly men carrying prim picnic baskets, arm-in-arm with women wearing their most summery of sundresses, quickly settled into their seats as up-and-coming rock band Car Seat Headrest launched into their severely underrated set. Headliners Death Cab for Cutie even commented on this budding opening band later on in the night, stating how they’ve been “big fans of them for three or four years now”. Car Seat Headrest lead singer Will Toledo proffers a deep, yet comforting voice, even when strained into a scream. Playing obscure tracks to their most popular “Drunk Driver / Killer Whale”, the band thanked all as they exited the stage, the sun in the sky following close behind.
After a brief intermission, set to the sounds of laughter and wine glasses clinking, the venue fell dark to welcome Death Cab’s keyboardist to the stage, backlit with ethereal visuals of blue and green stardust across the stage’s video screen. The first few notes of “Passenger Seat” wafted from the stage to the very back of the arena, a compelling track off Death Cab’s Transatlanticism album. It’s hard to describe the transfixion that opening song caused… it was as if your sight and sound senses merged into a tangible weightlessness — pure exaltation. Only a Death Cab fan circa 2003 can comprehend the magnitude of those piano notes being suspended in the summer air 16 years later. A true love for an album lasts a lifetime. Lead singer Ben Giffard took the stage then, “I roll the window down //
And then begin to breathe in…” The show had begun. The whole band joined the duo after that, along with more colorful lighting. Four songs in, Death Cab for Cutie brought back Transatlanticism with the banger “Title and Registration” — a song expected to be saved for last. But, that’s the thing about Death Cab: there’s so many hits, it’s hard to predict what will fit into a few mere hours of performance time.
It’s hard to describe the transfixion that opening song caused… it was as if your sight and sound senses merged into a tangible weightlessness…
The set list did a splendid job to please fans new and old though, jumping from recent radio hits like “Gold Rush” to yesteryear favorites like “Crooked Teeth”. It wasn’t until halfway through the show that guitarist Dave Depper revealed over the microphone a truly remarkable piece of gossip — it just so happened to be Giffard’s 43rd birthday. The Hollywood Bowl sang a warbling “Happy Birthday” to the blushing birthday boy, as he playfully motioned onstage to his bandmate that he was going to kill him for the embarrassment. Joking over the mic, Depper sarcastically snarked, “And, that’s the last show I play with Death Cab for Cutie…” Guess Giffard isn’t big on b-days. Either way, Giffard did express his thanks for all in attendance; he admitted he rips on Los Angeles a lot in his songs, but in reality, he considers the place a “second home”. We all share that same love-hate relationship, Ben, trust us.
Exiting the stage for a split second, Death Cab reemerged for an uproarious encore. The show closed as it had began with tracks from Transatlanticism; “Tiny Vessels” echoing “you are beautiful, but you don’t mean a thing to me” into the West Hollywood skyline before the title track. It was an ending so craftily melancholic, so wonderfully woeful, that attendees were transported to a version of their younger selves before exiting the arena. Was this your choice album of 2004? Could you not go to sleep without it whispering softly through your CD-player speakers? Did the repetitious outro of “Transatlanticism” bring cathartic tears to your face amidst a sea of teenage troubles? Well, it did for me. Death Cab was the answer back then, for better or for worse. Double my life years later, I’m happy to report some things just don’t change. Catch Death Cab for Cutie live sometime and find out for yourself.
Photography by Kristy Rose