The frontman for Death
Cab For Cutie dazzles a packed crowd on hand for his solo appearance at
Saxapahaw’s Haw River Ballroom (near Chapel Hill)
on November 10.
By Liz Hester / Photos by Margaret Hester
When introducing his new album Saturday night at the Haw
River Ballroom, Benjamin Gibbard told the audience that it felt “egocentric” to
call a record solely his own since he was used to collaborating with many
talented musicians. He even gave a half turn around to acknowledge them before
remembering he was alone on stage.
Gibbard, best known as the front man for Death Cab for Cutie
and The Postal Service, is touring behind his solid solo record “Former Lives.”
He played a stripped down show in Saxapahaw, NC,
accompanied only by his guitar or piano.
He seemed at ease in the intimate setting, at times joking
with the audience and telling a few short stories about the songs. But mostly
he just played – alternating guitars for the first part of the show, and then
moving to the upright piano. The setting was the best showcase for Gibbard’s
lyrics about complicated love, loss, and the beauty found in the mundane parts
After starting the show with the a cappella introduction
from his new record, “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” Gibbard went straight into
“Such Great Heights” from the Postal Service album “Give Up.” It was a bit
reminiscent of All-Time Quarterback, but richer, more polished and grown up.
For the next 90 minutes, Gibbard wowed the audience with
tracks from his new record, Death Cab favorites, songs from the near-perfect
Postal Service album and his collaboration with Jay Farrar, “One Fast Move or
Personal highlights included, a haunting version of
“Passenger Seat” (where I swear no one in the audience was even breathing it
was so still), “Unobstructed Views,” and of course, “Carolina”
from “Home: Vol. 5,” his 2003 album with Andrew Kenny. (Gibbard said he hadn’t
performed that one in five years.)
Owen Ashworth, touring as Advance Base, opened the show
playing a mix of synthy pop songs and electronica. His witty lyrics and deep,
soothing voice made you feel like he was the missing guest at your last party
-you know, the quirky guy everyone ends up talking to in the kitchen and walks
away from the night feeling just a little smarter and cooler for knowing.
To close the encore, Gibbard played “I Will Follow You into
the Dark,” which was fitting to have stuck in your head as you walked out into
the clear, star-filled night. (There’s nothing like a North Carolina
country sky in the winter.)
About 30 minutes from Carrboro, the Haw River Ballroom’s
expansive ceilings, exposed brick and homey feel were the perfect setting for
Gibbard’s haunting and stripped-down performance. The audience was able to
fully focus on the lyrics and Gibbard’s voice, a much different listening
experience than hearing him with a full band.
If Ashworth is the guy you want at the party, Gibbard is the
guy you want around all the time to help you see the depth
and richness of life and to fully appreciate the beauty of the moment, no
matter how painful.