Death Cab For Cutie / The Antlers Metropolis, Montreal QC, May 8
Published May 09, 2015Though they're only a trio, the Antlers' albums feature incredible amounts of sonic weight and texture, so it's no surprise that their typical live setup finds them with a fourth member to bolster the live arrangements. Unfortunately, their current arrangement features no such touring bandmate, forcing multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci to leave his trumpet behind to focus exclusively on keys, which made this live incarnation of the Antlers more akin to a typical rock band than they've ever been before. Not to say that the trumpets were the band's only secret weapon — the Antlers have plenty, including frontman Pete Silberman's breathtaking falsetto and heartrending lyrics — but they allowed for their songs to reach new heights, with triumphant bursts of trumpet to bolster their climaxes.
The band compensated for this by amping up the rock factor; drummer Michael Lerner executed some nice drum fills to bring up the pace, and the typically horn-laden climaxes were replaced with bombastic, quickly-strummed rock finishes. The set was still great, but much too short, with only six songs in their allotted 40 minutes. Three of the six cuts came from their 2011 album, Burst Apart, undoubtedly their poppiest record, and the one that best resonated with Death Cab fans, if the applause from the growing crowd was any indicator.
Closer "Putting the Dog to Sleep" fared particularly well, with its striking, waltzing rhythm and Silberman's pleading belt. The Antlers were victims of circumstance, though; with a limited set-up and a shortened set, they weren't able to showcase the seasoned creators they've historically been, resulting in a good set from a great band.
Death Cab For Cutie are a pretty polarizing outfit: their detractors deride them for being wimpy, boring, yet another emotive, guitar-driven batch of white guys singing about love and heartbreak. But clearly their fans have other ideas; though it's been over a decade since their critical peak, 2003's Transatlanticism, throes of people continue to devote themselves to the Washington state pop rockers. This set was for the fans: even though they're promoting a new record, Kintsugi, it only took up around a quarter of their set; they spent the rest of their time rifling through their extensive back catalogue with hits old and new, and almost always to raucous applause.
Without founding member Chris Walla, the live setup has expanded to include two new touring members to help out the band's driving front-end with winding guitars and some atmospheric keys, and this new formation is undoubtedly sharp. The music itself was executed flawlessly, from the Kintsugi tracks — the atmospheric "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive" was a standout — to the deep cuts, like "President of What?" The latter really benefited from the expanded lineup, taking on a new, somewhat prowling menace, even with Gibbard's iconic mewl.
The band were professional, almost to a curt degree; Gibbard's few words to the crowd consisted of staple phrases ("We love you, [insert city name here]!"; "It's been [x] years since we've played here, thanks for coming back!"). The crowd was another story, belting out every word to every song and cheering passionately and frequently on what was undoubtedly an unforgettable occasion for them.
The crowd reached an unsurprising high during the band's now-iconic "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," from their 2005 album Plans; Gibbard took centrestage, armed only with his voice and an acoustic guitar, as the massive, sold-out Metropolis crowd sang along in a moment that was soft and sweet despite the sheer number of voices.
As the set progressed, "You Are a Tourist," from 2011's Codes and Keys, shimmered with its poppy riffs, while Transatlanticism opener "The New Year" still inspired shivers with its signature, firework-esque guitar blasts. The main set ended with the sublime "I Will Possess Your Heart," featuring a sharp peal of guitar feedback as Nick Harmer's sturdy bass line and Jason McGerr's driving drum beat began the steady ascent to the uproarious finale. The four-song encore was nice but middling, ending with the plaintive title track to Transatlanticism for a grand finale.
Death Cab's discography is divisive even among their fans, with different people preferring works from all over the band's catalogue, but the atmosphere of their Metropolis gig brought them together in mutual appreciation of the stalwart troupe. That's a testament to the cult of Death Cab, a band predicated on giving a voice to the outsider, successfully speaking to everyone's inner (or outer) loner, and bringing them together, even after all these years.