Thursday, June 9, 2016

Death Cab For Cutie at Nautica

After having listened to indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie for eleven years, I finally saw them live for the first time on Tuesday night at Nautica, the riverfront music venue in the Flats.

Although I never considered them one of my most favorite bands, I listened to a whole lot of Death Cab from 2005-2008, most especially in 2005 and 2006. In subsequent years, I've listened to them much less. I didn't stop liking them, but my interest waned. (In fact, from when I started using the website to track my music listening in August 2005 through the end of 2006, the only bands I listened to more than Death Cab were Ozma, the Decemberists, and Nada Surf. From 2007 to the present, in contrast, Death Cab are in 44th place.) And so there were a couple of times when Death Cab came to Cleveland and I didn't go because I felt like I wasn't into them quite enough to justify the cost of the show. Now that I'm no longer a poor graduate student, I decided I might as well go. (There was actually one time in the summer of 2006 when I was planning to see Death Cab and had purchased a ticket, but ended up not going because I broke my arm the day before the show. That was, of course, the same injury that occurred just days before the first trip I took with Cara.)

In 2015, after I hadn't given a whole lot of consideration to the band in a while, two things happened that closely tied their music to Cara and to her death. The first was that Death Cab released a new album, Kintsugi, and after the album was released, Cara asked me if I'd listened to it. She said that she had and it sounded good. The album was released on March 31, so this was very near the end of Cara's life. As it turned out, sadly, I did not get around to listening to the album myself until after Cara died. And I do like it a lot. Although I wouldn't put it up with my favorite Death Cab albums, I thought it was a significant step up from the album that came before it.

By the way, kintsugi is a Japanese term meaning "to repair with gold," referring to the art of repairing broken pottery with golden lacquer. According to Wikipedia, "As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise." Fitting, no? In an odd coincidence, three different bands I like, Death Cab, the Rural Alberta Advantage, and Hey Rosetta! released albums with artwork and/or titles related to this golden repair between September 2014 and March 2015. I in fact attended a Hey Rosetta! show less than two weeks before Cara's death.

The other event was that, as I was picking out music to play at the funeral home by looking through Cara's Spotify playlists, I came across a song she liked that I felt was a great encapsulation of her spirit: "Stay Young, Go Dancing." And so I chose this song to be played at the conclusion of the funeral ceremony.

Moving forward in time, now, to this past Tuesday. Going to a place, for the first time since Cara's death, that I had previously gone to with her always evokes feelings in me. This happened at both Nano Brew, the bicycling themed Ohio City bar where I had dinner (they have fantastic burgers), and at the music venue itself. Cara and I only went to one show together at Nautica, a very memorable Decemberists show the month after we got married, so I definitely thought of that show.

Unfortunately, my relative lack of experience with Nautica led me to make a very poor decision in purchasing tickets. Although the show was not sold out, when I went to purchase my ticket on the day of the show, I decided to also check StubHub, and I found some tickets that appeared to be better than any available from the venue and with no markup from face value: in the first row of seats. First row is good, right? (I did know that first row did not mean right by the stage, but rather the first row of seats after a standing pit.)

What I failed to consider was the layout of the venue. There is the stage, then the pit for standing room general admission, then a wide walkway, then a grandstand. The first row of seats in the grandstand is at ground level, at the same level as the standing pit, and directly behind the walkway through which people are frequently walking during shows. Therefore, the first row of seats is actually the very worst place to sit in the entire venue, because the view of the stage is partially obstructed by people standing, and people walking in front of you provide further annoyance.

The first band to perform was Pure Bathing Culture, who played a short but enjoyable set. This was actually the fourth time I'd seen the band in just nine months, which I'm pretty sure is the first time that's ever happened for me with a non-local band. I find this funny as, although I like the band, they are nowhere near being one of my favorites, so it's worth explaining how this happened. The first time I saw Pure Bathing Culture, they were on tour with another Portland, Oregon-based band I like, Wild Ones, and played a show at the Beachland Tavern last September that some of my friends also attended. The following week, I was in Washington, DC for a conference and as it happened I had a free night on which the same bands were playing a club in DC. I thought it would be fun and funny to go see them again, so I did. That show was especially notable because of the conversation I had with Wild Ones' lead singer Danielle at the merch table. I fondly remember the look of dawning recognition and excitement on her face after I said hi and she realized I was one of the people who had talked to her in Cleveland. The first time I saw Wild Ones, in March 2014, they were opening for one of my very favorite bands, Typhoon (also from Portland), and I had a very nice conversation with Danielle about Typhoon, Cara, and what Typhoon's music means to me. I was pleased to hear her say that she thinks Typhoon's lead singer Kyle Morton is one of the very best people she knows.

So anyway, to finish explaining how I ended up seeing Pure Bathing Culture four times. After the first two last fall, they then happened to be opening at two different shows I've seen this year: Lucius (an absolutely amazing show) and now Death Cab.

The second act Tuesday night was CHVRCHES (pronounced "churches"). I have their first album and I like it, and I was looking forward to seeing them, but unfortunately I found much of their live set to be bordering on obnoxiously loud (perhaps the thumping bass brought up unpleasant associations with noise problems I've had with my upstairs neighbor), and my annoyance with the seating situation was increasing. I could have stood up to get a better view, but no one around me was standing, and I didn't want to bother the people behind me. I did vow to myself that I would stand for Death Cab no matter what. But toward the end of CHVRCHES' set, I was wondering whether I'd made a mistake in going to the show. The fact that it came on the heels of the transcendent Florence + the Machine show I attended days earlier, I suppose, was also not in this show's favor.

Something great happened in the break between the second and third bands. I was walking back from a concession stand when I heard someone call my name. I turned to see one of my old college cross country teammates, Irene. We talked for a while, sharing memories of running and various concerts, including a Decemberists show in 2006 that we had both attended without being aware of each other's attendance. That show, at the Agora, was on November 9, just five days after Cara and I started dating. I called Cara during that show so she could hear the song "Red Right Ankle."

After I explained my unfortunate seating situation, Irene told me that she and her friend had seats much higher up in the grandstand and there was an empty seat next to them that I could use. So I joined them, and my new seat, in row S, was vastly preferable to my original seat in row A. Who would have guessed?

Death Cab quickly put to rest any doubts I still had about whether it had been a good idea to attend the show. As they played the opening chords of the song "Crooked Teeth" from their 2005 album Plans, I instantly remembered how much I had loved that song ten years ago. And it turns out I still love it today. I was surprised by how powerful the feelings of nostalgia were that were evoked by the songs the band played from Plans and the album that preceded it, Transatlanticism. Feelings of nostalgia for that period of time in 2005 and 2006 when I started grad school, lived by myself for the first time, got into indie music and going to concerts, and met and became best friends with Cara. I think the fact that I hadn't listened to those albums that much in the years since made the nostalgic feelings even stronger, because that music is even more tied to that time in my life than music by bands such as Ozma and Okkervil River that I listened to a lot back then but then continued to listen to a lot. I was very glad that Death Cab played several songs from each of those two albums, including closing their encore with a sprawling and intense rendition of the title track from Transatlanticism.

Before the concert, I thought about how I might react if Death Cab played "Stay Young, Go Dancing," the song from Cara's funeral. I guessed they probably wouldn't play it, though, and I was right, they didn't. What I didn't think about (because I hadn't listened to the song in years) was how I would react if they played "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," (like "Crooked Teeth," a track from Plans). It's a beautiful acoustic number. Opening lines: "Love of mine, someday you will die, but I'll be close behind, I'll follow you into the dark."

Yeah, I was in tears throughout the song, and also kind of just sitting there dazed. But as I've written before, I think it's healthy to experience those feelings, and music often helps me do that.

Cara and I talked about music a lot in our online chats as we were getting to know each other, and Death Cab For Cutie were one of the bands we talked about. So it shouldn't have been surprising that finally seeing them live would bring about a lot of feelings in me. I'm very glad I went.

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