Last November, the UCSB student body proved once and for all that they’re not perpetually wasted - or that they’re super productive when they are - by registering more voters than any other college campus in the nation. Yes, the nation. Their prize for such a momentous feat: a free, students-only concert by indie heroes cum rock ‘n’ roll superstars, Death Cab for Cutie. And the result: a seriously awe inspiring, LED-filled night of music for the university-going masses (Tues., April 28).
While the original clause in the Ultimate College Bowl‘s competition rules stated that The Decemberists‘ Colin Meloy would be on hand to open the event, “financial difficulties” quickly nixed the likelihood of that happening. In Meloy’s place, students were treated to an opening set by New York six-piece Ra Ra Riot. The cello toting indie popsters were heavy on the energy, but the realities of playing in a sporting center undeniably worked against them in the end. Lead singer Wes Miles was nearly drowned out by the venue’s echo, and the band’s normally pitch-perfect orchestrations came out sounding a little muddy. Still, cuts from the recently released The Rhumb Line like “Oh, La,” “Winter ‘05,” and the synth-y “Too Too Too Fast” did their job in getting the place hyped up for the night’s headliners.
Not long after nine, following an enthusiastic round of “oles” from the crowd, the Washington-based four-piece took to the stage for a rollicking performance of “Marching Bands of Manhattan” amid a sea of cheers, woo-hoos, and yelps. Frontman Ben Gibbard, known to fans as a relatively banter-free performer, happily engaged the crowd throughout the nearly two-hour-long show with a bevy of “thank yous” and short asides.
Songs ranged from the super new (“My Mirror Speaks” and “A Diamond and a Tether” off The Open Door EP) to the career-launching (“A Movie Script Ending,” “Photobooth”), with the majority of the set concentrated on the band’s 2008 full-length, Narrow Stairs. And despite it being one of the best performances I’ve seen from Death Cab in recent memory, Tuesday night’s concert seemed to be only partly about the music. The audience - which was nowhere near at capacity, but limited in size by the powers that be - was both attentive and exuberant throughout the 21-song-long setlist, and far more vocal than its size would indicate. The importance of not only the event they celebrated, but the dedication of the students in attendance spoke volumes about the notion of voter apathy among today’s youth. Against the backdrop of Death Cab’s beautifully orchestrated, crisp pop tunes, students were able to honor not only their accomplishment, but the accomplishments of their generation. Tuesday’s show was a post-inauguration party for the kids, and the reason behind it made songs like “Grapevine Fires” and “The New Year” seem all the more poetic and relevant. This is not only the New Year, it’s the new millennium, and the future’s looking brighter by the second.