This may not be a big deal to people who watch their favorite band’s concerts all the time. But for Kathy and I, die-hard Death Cab For Cutie lovers from the Philippines who never thought we would get to hear and see them play live, let alone meet them – this is a Very Big Deal.
Here follows an account of our trip to Singapore to watch Death Cab For Cutie!
Twisting my stomach into knots
Kathy and I arrived in Singapore the day before the concert with hardly any baggage. We picked up the tickets at a SISTIC booth in Bugis Junction, and spent the next two days walking idly around Singapore. I didn’t buy much except for food and transportation, and I felt a sense of slow-growing excitement. I kept waiting for it to sink in.
On the afternoon of the concert, we met up with Jolo (another fan friend who had flew in THAT DAY for the gig) and got his ticket too. We arrived at the Esplanade early, looking for posters with which to cam-whore. There were none (though the upcoming Camera Obscura gig was well-advertised). All we found was a plain bond paper printout that said “DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE”. We cam-whored with it anyway.
We met up with Rizki, a fan from Malaysia to whom I sold our extra ticket c/o Facebook. “You really saved me!” he said happily. We ran into more friends – Mayo, who got to interview Death Cab over the phone, lucky bastard; and Quark, Justin, Mikey, and Mitch from Ciudad. There was a lot of waiting, while the excitement grew more and more. “The merchandise booth is open,” Mayo announced, and all of us stood up in one fluid motion and rushed to the booth. I bought a black Death Cab For Cutie shirt :D.
Then the lights dimmed to black, and there were lots of screaming. A strange pre-recorded intro filled the air. The lights came back on, and four guys came out in single file on stage.
Passing through unconscious states
I was looking at the four men, confused. Where’s Ben Gibbard? Is this the opening act? I kept waiting for the final shoe to drop. And then I heard Gibbard’s voice singing “Bixby Canyon Bridge” coming in from somewhere, and my head swerved to the band member directly in front of me. It was Ben, but not the geeky, pudgy Ben we all knew from videos and photos. No, this Ben was thin, with long hair and tight pants and a shiny shirt. He looked like a rock star! None of us could believe it!
So began the first of 22 songs for Death Cab For Cutie. While focusing heavily on their new album, they also played a lot of old stuff – and I mean old stuff, which Kathy and I adored. They did the usual crowd-pleasers (“Why You’d Want To Live Here”, “The New Year”, “Soul Meets Body”) but skipped out on the tracks we expected. Instead, they took us by surprise with songs like “Company Calls”, “Title Track”, and “Styrofoam Plates”. The only song I didn’t know was “Photobooth”, from their EP which I’d heard only that morning. But they played more tracks from my favorite album Transatlanticism than any other old album!
There was one song that really, really shook me up, and strangely enough, it wasn’t my “favorite” song “Title and Registration“, which they also played. Instead, it was their second to the last song: “Tiny Vessels”, another track from Trans which I really, really loved and knew by heart. “This is the moment that you know,” Ben sang, and the first thing I thought of was, They read my mind – they are singing this for me. And that’s when it hit me – I was there. I was there right in front of Death Cab For Cutie!
DCFC moved from song to song quickly, with hardly any spiels. And they were moving fast – I felt drummer Jason McGerr trying to pull the pace down a few times. Of the four of them, bassist Nick Harmer was the most energetic; he kept rocking out and moving about, even kicking the speakers, and this was no small feat considering how tight the rhythm section was. Jason was focused and intense, only letting loose in “Styrofoam Plates“, nailing the drum solo perfectly.
Even if he was the usual fan favorite, Chris Walla didn’t exude star power at all. While the other three were rocking out, he stayed at the sidelines, moving from his guitar to the keyboard – sometimes both simultaneously, keeping his pick between his mouth for quick switching. Chris would sing backup vocals with complete concentration, looking like he was always doing his own thing.
And Ben – well, Ben was a rock star. He was oozing complete confidence and even threw the guitar in the air to his roadie during the intro of “I Will Possess Your Heart”. But his voice remained the same – and it was perfect. He never went off-pitch. As he was my favorite DCFC member, most of my photos are of him ;).
Their performance was technically perfect, but it was the experience of being in the audience that made the night really worthwhile. We had very good seats – a few rows from the stage, and Ben was right in front of me. Kathy and I were jumping wildly and singing along to practically every song. Most of the Singaporean audience only knew the latest ones; sometimes I would look in the crowd during an old song and single out the old-school fans who were rocking out like us (Quark, you’re one of them!). I’d watched two other fave bands before (Dave Matthews Band and Bloc Party) but I never went crazy like I did now. At one point, Kathy turned to me and said, “We are singing along to Death Cab For Cutie,” and I grinned. Yes, we were!
They ended the night with “Transatlanticism”. While we loved that song to bits, we also knew that there would be an autograph signing afterwards – 30 minutes only, and first-come, first-served. So when “Trans” began to play, we slowly moved near the exit, ready to escape.
But if I move my place in line I’ll lose
Brilliant plan, it was – until we went outside and saw that many others had thought of the same thing. There was already a line, and people were running down the hall screaming. So WE RAN, TOO! Kathy and I scrambled past the rest and then dove under the rope that marked the line (some guy behind us actually crashed into the rope, poor thing). So we had a good place in line, and we whipped out our favorite CDs – Kathy had The Photo Album and I had Trans – and we tried to wait patiently, but really couldn’t, because after a short wait there was more screaming and then Death Cab For Cutie went out of the theater and sat at the signing table.
To our dismay, the show security said no pictures or video were allowed, which really sucked – when would I have another chance to have a pic with Ben Gibbard? We struggled with what we were going to say, but when we got to the table, we were a bit disappointed. Ben and Jason didn’t look up during the signing at all; they just signed my CD and moved it forward. We kept telling them that we had flown in from Manila just to see them, but they were unfazed. In the end, it was Chris who talked to us – he told Nick, “These guys came all the way from Manila!” and he kept thanking us for going. “Thank you for coming,” I breathed, and then in a minute it was over and I was out of the line.
We talked about this for hours afterward, how we expected Ben to be the friendly one and how he was quiet and unresponsive instead. We came up with all sorts of silly excuses – he’s tired, he’s not a people person, it’s his birthday so he’s probably going through some personal crisis – but in the end, it didn’t really matter. The main reason I love DCFC is the songwriting and musical arrangement, and Ben has a large part in that, so I’m still a huge fan even if it didn’t go as I expected.
This is fact not fiction for the first time in years
Kathy and I are back in Manila now, trying to get on with our normal lives. But we have this badge of honor now, a shared experience that hopefully even with my lousy memory I will never forget. Isn’t it funny – I used to sing in a band famous for covering “The New Year”, and now I’ve sung it with the actual band a few feet in front of me? And I used to say I would bring Transatlanticism with me to a desert island, and now my copy of Trans is autographed? How my e-mail address is “deathcabcutie” and now I’ve seen them live?
Please, please, Death Cab For Cutie, come back to Asia. Wherever it is – Kathy and I will be there again!