Words: Alex Wood | Photo: @amacatlett
Though Ben Gibbard has become a household name in the indie scene thanks to Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service’s undying popularity, the songwriter enjoys an especially strong following in Chicago.
His first of two sold-out nights at Thalia Hall justified this following, with Gibbard offering an eclectic setlist and personable atmosphere in a set that emphasized the strength of his songwriting.
Any fears that Gibbard would stick to the hits were immediately relinquished with opener “A Movie Script Ending,” the song dating back to 2001 and setting the scene for a night that leaned heavily on Death Cab’s back-catalog.
Solo and acoustic, the audience fell absolutely silent for the somber, gentle performance.
“Thanks for coming out,” Gibbard said after. “Let’s get sensitive, shall we?”
Recent Death Cab single “Black Sun” followed, and, despite its simple, non-technical guitar strumming, was extremely effective and moving, thanks entirely to the stellar songwriting and confident delivery.
This idea of professional songwriting being more important than arguably amateur instrumental performances remained a reality throughout the evening, the show only better for it.
“Did you guys enjoy the last day today? I decided to start learning Russian,” Gibbard awkwardly joked, Trump’s election looming on tomorrow’s horizon.
The crowd became visibly excited for the classic “Title And Registration,” the intimate feeling of the venue especially noticeable between the spacious performance and respectful audience.
The lyrics taking place entirely in a single moment, the clever song again underlined what led Gibbard to reach such popularity, an undeniable genius behind the simple composition.
Gibbard continued to address the crowd and political climate throughout the show.
“As long as we take care of the marginalized corners of our country we’ll be fine,” he said. “Maybe some of you feel differently, but I don’t.”
The songwriter switched to piano for the middle portion of the set, ecstatic cheers following the sad, ambient opening notes to “Passenger Seat” in an almost ironic way.
Two fan-favorites from Plans followed, “What Sarah Said” and “Soul Meets Body,” the latter especially reworked to a slower, more expressive version of the original, Gibbard still hunched over the piano.
Big Star’s “Holocaust” and The Postal Service’s “Recycled Air” offered a break from the Death Cab oriented set. “Recycled Air” found the artist shortening the song slightly, converting the glitchy, electronic original to a simple and clean piano arrangement that felt nothing short of gorgeous.
Gibbard returned to guitar for the remainder of the set, finally performing a song from his solo record with the infectious “Something Rattling (Cowpoke),” his acoustic rendition sounding like a stripped-down Fleet Foxes.
By the time the singer reached the end of his set, songs like “Cath” and “Such Great Heights” felt like a victory lap, the sheer vastness of quality songs in his discography having been well established already.
The encore opened with a cover of Depeche Mode’s “The Things You Said,” Gibbard’s intricate finger-picking a welcome change from his usually strummed chords.
Death Cab classic “A Lack Of Color” received a massive applause, with “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark” bringing the night to a fitting close, its blend of infectiousness and emotions a perfect nightcap.
Though Gibbard could never match the greatest folk singers of our time, musically, he certainly established himself as amongst the greatest songwriters of modern times through a set that surely satisfied fans present.
Read the full setlist and watch videos from the show below.
"A Lack Of Color:"
"When The Sun Goes Down On Your Street:"
1. A Movie Script Ending (Death Cab For Cutie)
2. Black Sun (Death Cab For Cutie)
3. Title And Registration (Death Cab For Cutie)
4. These Roads Don’t Move (Jay Farrar)
5. I Was A Kaleidoscope (Death Cab For Cutie)
6. Me And Magdalena (The Monkees)
7. Passenger Seat (Death Cab For Cutie)
8. Talking Bird (Death Cab For Cutie)
9. Holocaust (Big Star)
10. Soul Meets Body (Death Cab For Cutie)
11. Recycled Air (The Postal Service)
12. Grapevine Fires (Death Cab For Cutie)
13. Something’s Rattling
14. When The Sun Goes Down On Your Street
15. Cath (Death Cab For Cutie)
16. You Remind Me Of Home
17. Such Great Heights (The Postal Service)
18. The Things You Said (Depeche Mode)
19. A Lack Of Color (Death Cab For Cutie)
20. I’ll Follow You Into The Dark (Death Cab For Cutie)