Ben Gibbard leads Death Cab for Cutie with drummer Jason McGerr and guitarist/keyboardist Zac Rae behind. | Credit: Matt Perko

The last show of the Santa Barbara Bowl season on Wednesday, October 19 brought a little bit of everything that makes the Bowl great — warm summer-like weather, loud guitars, buoyant pop, and an equally jubilant crowd. Legendary indie-rock band Yo La Tengo started things off with distortion-laden ferocity, bending tracks like “I Heard You Looking” into lengthy guitar solos with amps turned up, guitars swinging, and feedback high. Fall favorite “Autumn Sweater” is always a highlight and their performance left the audience in a contented sonic trance. Ben Gibbard, lead singer and guitarist for headliners Death Cab for Cutie, even joined them on keyboards, darting off with a happy wave and jumping back on stage shortly thereafter for another energetic performance.

After Yo La Tengo’s sprawling set, Death Cab’s exacting strobe lights and perfectly timed hand-claps on the catchy “I Don’t Know How I Survive” from the 10th studio album, “Asphalt Meadows,” felt remarkably tight. Gibbard’s a pro, and a happy one at that. He excitedly shifted between new songs such as “Here to Forever” to crowd favorites like “Movie Script Ending” and “The New Year,” playing each with a fresh energy. It felt a bit surreal to hear Gibbard’s iconic voice blazing through ear worms like “Crooked Teeth” and “The Sound of Settling.” 

The packed crowd bounced and gesticulated to the earnest and heart-bearing songs. I could only imagine the shared nostalgia we might all be experiencing – memories from high school, college and beyond played out to a Death Cab soundtrack. Perhaps the most magical part of the night occurred when Gibbard played the classic “I’ll Follow You into the Dark.” In a stripped down moment, the acoustic came out, as did the campfire sing-along vibes. Gibbard even instructed the audience to take their own verse and we sang out in unison, my friend beside me opting for some sweet harmonies. 

In a world with so much unknown and the winter’s darkness creeping in, the last show at the Bowl proved how miraculously unalone we can feel with the simple power of music.

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