By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jul 08, 2005 at 5:16 AM

{image1}There's always a bit of skepticism when a band takes that big leap to the major label. The bands worry about the term "sellout" being tossed around, and fans worry that the music they've loved for so long might change. While both fears are understandable, Death Cab for Cutie has managed to escape the stigma, and judging by the size and energy of Thursday night's crowd, the band's link with Atlantic Records, and impressive Summerfest performance, was well-received by fans.

The band opened with the down-tempo "Title Track" from the "We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes" album, which wasn't exactly the most exciting choice, but at that point, just about anything could have gotten the antsy crowd up on those picnic tables and dancing. After a no-show by Milwaukee punkers Paris, Texas, and a mostly bland set from Maritime, the crowd, most of which had assembled early to get a good seat, was ready to have some fun.

And, if anything, Death Cab brought the fun. The band's usual energetic show opener, "The New Year," was reserved for song number two, and frontman Ben Gibbard wasted no time falling into his infamous body sway as he switched between guitar and various percussion instruments.

Cramming 15 songs into an hour, their set was about as energetic as possible for a band whose strength lies mostly in layering introspective lyrics perfectly on top of pleasant pop melodies. Death Cab is not the band to see when what you desire is to be rocked like you've never been rocked before. Rather, they are the type of band whose music has the potential to touch you emotionally, and ideally, since the possibility of having them all yourself at a show is pretty slim, they are best enjoyed via headphones walking in a park somewhere rather than while balancing on the edge of a wobbly crowded picnic table at Summerfest.

Thought not as rowdy or rambunctious as other Big Gig acts, Death Cab performed the best of their songs flawlessly, even giving old fans a taste of the early days with "Sleep Spent" and "Pictures in an Exhibition" off 1999's "Something About Airplanes." Incredibly, they left not one of their five albums unrepresented, and even gave us a taste of what greatness is soon to come. They played "Crooked Teeth" off their upcoming album "Plans," due out August 30.

Gibbard seemed genuinely happy to be playing Summerfest, and embraced his audience like we were an old college drinking buddy he hadn't seen in years: "Milwaukee! Sonofabitch!" he yelled with delight. "This is a great night. You guys, the lake..." He sort of trailed off after that, but it was clear that he and his band felt a warm Milwaukee welcome and promised they'd be back to again in the fall.

With Gibbard's boyish charm and the whole band's inherent ability to write songs that make you feel good, how can you not love the indie pop goodness that is Death Cab for Cutie? Can it still be called "indie" pop even if they've strayed from Barsuk Records? Oh, who cares? The real question is when the hell is Gibbard going to reunite with Jimmy Tamborello and put out another amazing (full-length) Postal Service album? And no, the slew of four-song single CDs don't count.

If you're a fan who missed this show, you can catch them at Lollapalooza in Chicago on July 24.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”