Sing, Sing a Song

Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear

"Dude, I could just stand here and listen to this for the next two days!"

-- overheard at Respectable Street, Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Although we've attended many a show at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, nothing in our tenure has approached the sight of the line down the frickin' block in anticipation of the November 5 date with Mates of State and Death Cab for Cutie. Wednesday night on Clematis Street is generally sleepy, but the people flocking to the show at the 350-person-capacity club were diehards, some of whom had made a 130-mile round-trip pilgrimage from Miami.

Part of the success was attributable to the double bill. Mates of State attracted a healthy young fans of their own, 20-somethings hanging on every word. Death Cab for Cutie, obviously on the verge of some minor breakthrough, is still a rock band -- albeit a talented one with better-than-average songs -- and they rocked out more than you would've expected. During one frenzied climax, mild-mannered bandleader Ben Gibbard even played his Stratocaster with his teeth.

Over near the rear exit sat the busy merch table, where copies of both bands' newest records sold briskly and $12 T-shirts were being exchanged for clammy balled-up wads of bills.

The relative peace between songs was regularly disturbed by shouting not "Freebird!" but words of good will because the fans literally couldn't contain themselves. Not even granite-hearted Bandwidth could gain pleasure in mocking that.

Most amusing to performers and audience alike was one bloke who made it loud and clear that he was there only to soak up Transatlanticism's phenomenal title track (described extensively in "Atlantic Crossing," October 30, 2003). He became more and more vocal and impatient, which soon became a running joke on-stage. It was particularly amusing to those of us pressed up against the monitors, who could see, by the lengthy set list taped to the floor, that the object of this man's desire was the final number in a 20-song program.

But who was counting? In the back of the room, fatigue may have found its way into hipsters' bloodstreams, but in the front, most seemed to echo the sentiments of those quoted above. Before the show, Gibbard explained that the songs were chosen to appease hard-core fans. "Live shows exist for the audience," he said. "They don't exist for you. The reason you're going to somebody's town is to play the songs they want to hear."

These kids weren't there to drink or smoke or socialize but to sing along to every song while bathing in Gibbard's dripping sweat. They sounded way more out-of-key, but no less fervent, than the Carrabba Army that shows up for Dashboard Confessional's stadium shows. Maybe there's an overlap in the fan base there, Ben? "I dunno," he admitted. "If we can get everyone singing along to the end of 'Transatlanticism,' it'll be awesome." But he drew the line at the sort of evangelical ass-kissing Dashboard gets every night.

"It seems like it's gone past -- and I'm just assuming here -- that it's gone past the people at those first small shows who were really feeling it and were singing along because they couldn't help themselves from singing along," Gibbard correctly guessed. "And now it's like some kind of Pavlovian response. You have to go and sing louder than the singer. I think that it's gotta be frustrating as hell."

But being as genuinely nice as he is, Gibbard quickly qualified anything that could have been taken as a slight against Carrabba. He acknowledged the Teeny Tattooed One's power and "insane" success. Issuing this prediction, though, he visibly cringed: "I have a weird feeling that the entire crowd singing every word to every song is going to be the new moshing."

Carrabba is 28 years old. Gibbard is 27. The older guy may be much more fluent in the language of teen heartbreak, but he's not savvy enough to write genuinely good lyrics or anything trickier than the universally boring verse-chorus-verse strum-a-lum-lum-a-lum-lum.

It's worth noting that Carrabba -- sometime after appearing on the cover of Spin and before (thankfully) disappearing beneath the waves -- reportedly named Transatlanticism his current favorite record.

Transatlanticism must knock Carrabba down a few pegs. After all, Death Cab is emo as all get out, if emo is really shorthand for emotional. One guy even lifted his glasses and wiped away wetness from his baby blues right in front of Bandwidth during one of Gibbard's slobbery heart-pours. But Gibbard's angelic voice aside, his songs possess a well-read maturity and aren't likely to embarrass him to death in five years. Can Carrabba say that?

 
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