By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jul 10, 2022 at 4:02 AM Photography: Dan Garcia

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Death Cab for Cutie capped off a series of memorable performances at the Generac Power Stage on Saturday night, giving fans a helluva show to close out Summerfest.

Their performance showcased a treasure trove of gems, including fan favorites from albums that span over two decades. But frontman Ben Gibbard and his bandmates also delivered fresh takes, well executed experimentalism and a few new songs during their memorable 90 minute set.

Death Cab for CutieX

Sound issues plagued the first two songs in the set – “I Dreamt  We Spoke Again’ and “Summer Years” – with droning base muting Gibbard’s silky vocals. But by the time they broke into “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” a lively meditation on the baggage often carried into new relationships, the sound crew had effectively mitigated the issues, paving the way for Gibbard and crew to pick up the pace with “Long Division” a fast paced tune that uses mathematical metaphor to tackle the deep-rooted feelings of living as an outsider.

It struck me as I listened to the cerebral lyrics that the band has come a long way since its inaugural album “Something About Airplanes” was released in 1998. And yet, there's so much about them which has remained consistent. For me, part of the appeal of Death Cab has always been their down-to-earth vibe – even in concert, the band bears the stereotypical look of Seattle coffee shop denizens – and thought provoking lyrics. It's undoubtedly among the reasons why their starkly confessional albums have somehow, despite the passage of over two decades, aged as well as they have. 

That became starkly evident when Gibbard pulled the tune "Photobooth" out of the proverbial "way back machine." The song, released 22 years ago on the "We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes" album, could well have been written yesterday.

Band and crowdX

From Cactus Club to fireworks

Gibbard was congenial throughout the show, thanking the crowd regularly for listening, but also engaging them with more personal banter.

“It’s always good to be back here in Milwaukee,” he said, following a performance of “Blacking Out the Friction”. “I’ve got fond memories of the first time we played here at the Cactus Club in August of 1999 [ …] This is dedicated to the six people who showed up..”

And with that, he broke into a soulful performance of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” a darkly beautiful ballad that tackles both the loss of faith and the passion of a relationship that transcends death. 

Ben Gibbard
Ben Gibbard
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As he sang, fireworks broke out in the background, the explosions marking a distinctive contrast to the lyrics. Gibbard stopped. “I think this might be the first time we’ve ever been interrupted by fireworks,” he said with a chuckle, finishing out the song as the crowd sang enthusiastically along, the booming fireworks like bombs in the distance.

Big energy

Little was predictable about the concert, including a rendition of the popular “I Will Possess Your Heart” that featured a memorable intro featuring gritty distorted guitar that enhanced the inherently creepy sentiment of the song (it’s basically the ballad of a stalker).

Lead guitarist
Dave Depper
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Emotions ran high during performances of “Cath…” and “Northern Lights,” a tune that serves up poignantly angsty teenage scenes worthy of a John Hughes film thanks to lyrics like “We shared a clove cigarette / On the parapet / As the T.V.s glowed from windows of the model homes.”

Gibbard was in constant motion throughout the 90 minute performance. His shoulders swayed, his feet bounced and he frequently propelled himself across the stage, often backwards, wielding his Fender Mustang with bristling punk rock energy.

That energy was evident during heavy-hitters like “Title and Registration“ and “Crooked Teeth,” a tune bristling with fuzzy-toned guitar. In fact, the talent of the entire quintet, which included bass player Nick Harmer, lead guitarist Dave Depper, drummer Jason McGerr and keyboardist Zac Rae – was evident throughout the tight, lively set.

Bassist
Nick Harmer
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Something new

The Summerfest performance marked the fifth show in their 2022 Asphalt Meadows Tour, which intersects the release of their tenth studio album on Sept. 16.

As a result, the set also included two new singles. The first was the recently released “Roman Candles,” a pandemic-fueled anthem in which Gibbard sang: “I used to feel everything like a flame/Now it's a struggle just to feel anything/I watch the world from a window on a hill/Everyone moving as I'm standing still,” before the band erupted into a cacophony of distorted, 80s shoegaze-esque noise, including drums that emulated the fireworks for which the song is named.

Drummer
Jason McGerr
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The second was “Here to Forever” which will be released on July 13.

It seemed the night would wrap up with “Bixby Canyon Bridge” and its maelstrom of whirling synths and screeching guitars. But, after the band left the stage, guests were treated to a rare Summerfest encore.

Just a few moments ticked by before Gibbard walked back onto the stage, grabbing his guitar and launching into the catchy crowd-pleaser  “You Are a Tourist.”  That was followed by the heart-string tugging  “Soul Meets Body” after which Gibbard stood with his Gibson acoustic ax held high as the crowd roared with praise and applause. 

Set list

I Dreamt We Spoke Again  (Thank You For Today)
Summer Years (Thank You For Today)
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive (Kintsugi)
Long Division (Narrow Stairs)
Photobooth (Forbidden Love EP)
Title and Registration (Transatlanticism)
Crooked Teeth (Plans)
Roman Candles - new (Asphalt Meadows)Meadow
Blacking Out the Friction (The Photo Album)mbum
I Will Possess Your Heart (Narrow Stairs)
I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Ben Gibbard solo acoustic) (Plans)
Kids in ‘99 (The Blue EP)
Black Sun (Kintsugi)
Northern Lights (Thank You For Today)
Here to Forever - new (Asphalt Meadows)
Cath... (Narrow Stairs)
Bixby Canyon Bridge (Narrow Stairs)

Encore
You Are a Tourist (Codes and Keys)
Soul Meets Body (Plans)

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.