In 1967, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band released a song titled "Death Cab for Cutie," which tells the tale of Cutie, who goes out on the town when her lover wants her to stay home and ends up in a cab that runs a red light and crashes. The sad subject matter was recorded as a parody of Elvis Presley's 1957 hit "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," sung in 1950s doo-wop style with honky-tonk piano and blaring saxophones. A far cry from its "roots," the world-renowned American alternative-rock band Death Cab for Cutie will perform at Bend's Les Schwab Amphitheater on July 9.
DCFC's actual roots lie in Bellingham, Washington, at Western Washington University, where founding members Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitars, piano), Chris Walla (guitars, piano, keyboards, backing vocals), Nick Harmer (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Nathan Good (drums, percussion) released their first cassette in 1997, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, most of which was recorded in the basement of Gibbard's home.
Aside from two drummer replacements (landing on current drummer Jason McGerr in 2003), DCFC has kept the same members through the years as its success has blossomed—until last year. Founding guitarist and producer Walla announced that he was leaving the group after they finished recording their eighth studio album, Kintsugi, which was released at the end of March. (Kintsugi, by the way, is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.)
But that hasn't slowed them down. Prior to the upcoming show in Bend, they were promoting the new album across Europe. It was actually in the United Kingdom that their singles "A Movie Script Ending," "I Was a Kaleidoscope," and "We Laugh Indoors," from their third album The Photo Album, first hit the charts in 2001.
Their fourth album Transatlanticism, released in 2003, was when they truly caught American ears with "The Sound of Settling" and "Title and Registration," which made their way onto the soundtracks of television shows "The O.C.," "Six Feet Under," "CSI: Miami," and "Californication," and the movies Wedding Crashers, Easy A, and Mean Creek.
In 2005, Plans was their fifth album and first major-label debut after signing with Atlantic Records. It featured one of their most memorable and touching ballads, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." (For a real tearjerker, check out the "Bunny Version" of the song by Jay Barrow at vimeo.com/118617223.)
Plans also earned them a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. Narrow Stairs followed in 2008, featuring "I Will Possess Your Heart" and "Cath...," both of which made it into the top 10 of the Alternative Songs chart. Also, Narrow Stairs was nominated for "Best Alternative Music Album" and "I Will Possess Your Heart" was nominated for "Best Rock Song" at the 51st Grammy Awards, though neither won.
The band did show up to the event wearing blue ribbons to protest the excessive use of "Auto-Tune" in the music industry, sparking debate. Narrow Stairs then became their first album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart in May 2008, though it wasn't until 2011 with their seventh album, Codes and Keys, where they accomplished their first number one single "You are a Tourist."
So far, Kintsugi's reviews have been mixed, from The New York Times citing Gibbard's divorce from Zooey Deschanel and Walla moving on being too-obvious influences to pitchfork.com saying that Gibbard's writing is "less personal." Rolling Stone actually gives Gibbard a reassuring pat on the back, saying it is a "heart-wrenchingly honest record." Surely, the old adage is true for broken hearts and new albums—time heals all wounds.
Death Cab For Cutie with Built to Spill
6:30 pm, Thursday, July 9
Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin-Hixon Dr.