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Concert Review | Ben Gibbard delivers captivating solo performance at Somerville Theatre

Death Cab singer spans career through song

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11

Ben Gibbard, frontman for both Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service, stopped by the Somerville Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 4 to promote his new solo album “Former Lives.”

Every aspect of Gibbard’s show was geared towards intimacy. Soft lights lit a simple red curtain behind him as he stood alone, drawing in the audience with clear vocals, unimpeded by traditional stage distractions. Stripped of any supporting group members, Gibbard had no problem filling the theater with his emotional lyrics, acoustic guitar and soft piano.

The set was a combination of tracks from “Former Lives,” hits from Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service and a few covers of songs from other bands, including The Lemonheads. Almost every song was preceded by a short anecdote about its origin and a few musings from Gibbard. This conversational feel gave the show an almost one−on−one feel, creating a unique personal atmosphere that is simply unattainable in larger venues.

Gibbard began the show with “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” a short a cappella piece that is also the first track of “Former Lives.” During the opener, his voice rang out starkly through the theater, devoid of any accompaniment — even the guitar in his hands lay silent. This was the perfect way to introduce a set focused on an individual musician performing his songs in their simplest forms.

Much of the night was devoted to songs off of “Former Lives,” which debuted earlier this fall. The album features Gibbard’s signature poetic lyricism and its sound is comparable to recent releases from Death Cab for Cutie. An extended rendition of “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke),” a cheerful, upbeat tune from the new record, proved particularly memorable, lasting several minutes longer than the regular album version.

Fans of The Postal Service were treated to two songs off of the group’s only album, “Give Up.” Gibbard broke into “Such Great Heights,” one of the band’s most popular and successful songs, towards the beginning of the set, garnering obvious signs of approval from concert−attendees.

Unfortunately for The Postal Service fans, however, The Postal Service songs were heard only once more when Gibbard finished with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” before he returned to stage for a final encore.

Gibbard also opted to play several covers and a few songs only found on soundtracks. A little more than halfway through the set, he performed a beautifully reimagined version of “(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” the initial 2001 collaboration between Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello that many believe led to the formation of The Postal Service a few years later. Gibbard delivered an excellent rendition of the piece with light strums of his guitar, a significant contrast to the original’s rapid synthetic beats. Even ¡All−Time Quarterback!, Gibbard’s brief side−project from the late nineties, was included in the evening’s performance with a version of the song “Cleveland.”

Many of the most notable songs of the night were popular hits from Death Cab for Cutie. Because they are usually played with the backing of a full band, Gibbard’s solo performance made many these familiar songs sound different.

The ethereal “Soul Meets Body” was particularly haunting, substituting a sharp snare for piano, which seemed to hang onto every note. But the piano had its time to shine, especially on “Passenger Se bnat,” a minimal, melancholic standout. Though the song is composed of few notes and words, each packed an intense emotional punch that Gibbard conveyed with pinpoint precision.

With every song, the crowd moved in closer and closer to stage. Throughout his performance, even the soft voices of fans singing along remained at bay, as if to ensure that none of Gibbard’s notes were missed. Indeed, the show maintained such an intimate feel that the only indication that Gibbard was playing a sold−out theater was the roar of applause at the end.

The evening served as tribute to a brilliant songwriter and musician, highlighting both new and old favorites from the entire span of Gibbard’s career. Few artists are capable of holding the attention of a full theater for more than 90 minutes, but when Ben Gibbard concluded his performance, the audience was left only wanting more.

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