Friday, August 19, 2005

An Indie-Rock Sandwich

Death Cab for Cutie with The Decemberists and Stars @ Central Park Summerstage 8/18/05

At least that's what Colin Meloy of The Decemberists called this triple bill, which started with Stars, who once again rocked the very packed (I've never seen a line that long to get into Summerstage for a benefit, i.e. non-free, show) Central Park Summerstage in much the same fashion as their previous New York appearance opening for New Pornographers at the Prospect Park Bandshell back in June. Others in blog-land have stated that Stars are awkward live and don't come off that well live as compared to their records, but I have to disagree strongly with that assertion. In fact, I prefer their live show to their recently released Set Yourself on Fire, which is good and great on occasion but it sounds like the band is still trying to find their way in the studio. They may be a bit awkward, but you can tell that they're having oodles of fun playing up there and unlike Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who stated "there's a lot of joy for us in playing up there" a few weeks ago at Bowery Ballroom (see my review here), they didn't have to announce it to the crowd, either. Male lead singer Torquil bounced around like Michael Stipe's younger and just as emaciated-looking younger brother (to paraphrase Colin Meloy, who borrowed a jacket from Torquil, "this jacket's a bit tight; he really should eat some more carbs or something") and Amy Millan, who handled the female lead vocals as well as lead guitar duties, looked stunning as usual and played and sang really well, too. You can see photos here.

Next up was The Decemberists, whose excellent album Picaresque remains my favorite album of 2005 thus far. Although they only got to play for 50 minutes or so since they were the openers, they still put on a really good show, mainly concentrating on excellent Picaresque material like the opener "The Infanta", "16 Military Wives", "We Both Go Down Together" and my favorite "The Engine Driver" (though unfortunately no "Eli, The Barrow Boy", my other favorite on the album). In addition, they played "Odaline" and "The Legionnaire's Lament" from their 1st album Castaways and Cutouts and "Billy Liar" from their 2nd album Her Majesty. The show culminated with "The Mariner's Revenge Song" complete with audience screaming (as directed by guitarist Chris Funk) to emulate being swallowed by a whale.

After their terrific and too-short set, Death Cab for Cutie came on and much like their previous New York show at Roseland (which I also attended), they rocked Summerstage with a sound big enough so that all 5,000 or so could hear almost every instrumental nuance. Wisely, instead of innundating the crowd with almost every song from their so-so new one Plans (which will be out in a few weeks), the set concentrated on older material like The Photo Album's "Why'd You Wanna Live Here" and the excellent Transatlanticism's "The New Year", "Title and Registration" and "The Sound of Settling" (though unfortunately no "Lightness", "Tiny Vessels" or "We Looked Like Giants") while previewing 3 or 4 new ones (including the excellent single "Soul Meets Body") to give the audience a glimpse of the new album. The set did get a bit boring during the 2nd half and my feet really hurt from standing for 4 hours or so, but it was worth it. After closing the main set with "The Sound of Settling" and picking up the pace in the process, they came out for the encore with members of The Decemberists and proceeded to play a jaw-droppingly awesome version of Fleetwood Mac's soft-rock breakup classic "Go Your Own Way" with Ben and Colin singing together on the same mic. When Ben announced "this is just like 1978" before playing the song, I honestly expected a punk or new wave cover, but in all honesty, late '70s Fleetwood Mac is closer to the sound of the bands on this bill (though none of them particularly sound like Fleetwood Mac) than say, The Sex Pistols or The Ramones or The Clash, but that's ok though since I heart the Mac (and not in some stupid, ironic, detached, doofy hipster-ish kind of way). You can see photos of the collaboration here. After that, they closed with the stunning title track of Transatlanticism and on this beautiful, cloud-less, breezy night with low humidity (sweet relief after this record-breakingly hot summer), it was appropriate to hear the longing lyrics "I need you so much closer" pour into the New York City air over and over again. It was really moving, in fact. The only thing missing was the cigarette lighters from the crowd!

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