Benjamin Gibbard with Advance Base
The Assembly at the Woman's Club, Minneapolis
Thursday, November 1, 2012
An evening with Ben (Benjamin) Gibbard
is not merely an evening with music from his solo project, it's also an evening with the Postal Service, All-Time Quarterback, the Replacements, and Death Cab For Cutie. So much so, that it seemed as if his solo pieces played a backdrop to the other music. Not that anyone in the audience was complaining with this structure for his show.
Despite not having sold out the room, perhaps due to it being right after Halloween night where everyone had been out partying the night before -- or it not being a Death Cab show -- Ben did not let that deter him from entertaining through music and conversation. Opening with the a capella opening track off his latest album Former Lives, "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby," the crowd sat hushed in reverence, but let out cheers to the opening riffs of "Such Great Heights" from the Postal Service -- maybe their most famous song, another one of Ben's many side projects. Played acoustic on his guitar, the song was missing the opening synths, but was not lacking in personality. Slowed down, "Such Great Heights" can be compared to a fine red wine, allowing the lyrics to sit on Gibbard's tongue and pondered for their poignancy -- most especially the line, "I hope this song will guide you home." That seemed to be the theme for the evening, too, with Ben conceding that his music was aptly called "gentle music."
Some musicians are very careful in what they say onstage, often not saying much at all, and it almost seemed the case with Gibbard until he started to loosen up; there was no stopping the banter then. The singer said, "It's nice playing to a seated crowd. My friend asked me to go to his show recently, and I asked him if it was going to be a seated show. You know, 35 (respectively) is too old to be standing for three hours. You get too tired to rock."
A few years ago, Gibbard did another side project with Jay Farrar of Son Volt. This particular assignment had both artists collaborating on writing an album around the prose of Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur. The task was daunting, but Ben was able to put the feel of the Kerouac's book into song with "These Roads Don't Move," a piece about longing and wanderlust.
By this time in the show, Ben was warmed up and ready to share some stories from the road; the most captivating was his retelling of his recent experience at the airport. The singer says his paradigm has shifted in his least favorite person at the airport; until yesterday, it used to be the TSA agent going through his luggage, but had changed to the uncaring baggage claim guy. When he landed, Gibbard was missing his guitars, to which he is emotionally attached and needed for his job, and when he approached the claim person, he was met with apathy. Ben proceeds by saying to him, "Listen man, I just need a little bit of empathy. I just need to you act like you care. You don't have to, but for fifteen seconds, pretend like you care. I won't tell you the exact name of where he worked, but let's just call it 'Blunited.'"
When some artists announce a solo project, they often try and disengage themselves from any projects they have ever done. Ben is not afraid to revisit those songs, adding in "Title and Registration" and "Grapevine Fires" to the mix. He said, "I always think when people put out a live album, it's always the greatest hits, but just speeded up. For a solo show, it's always the greatest hits, just slowed down."
Leaving the acoustic guitar, Ben approached the grand piano set onstage for him to commence with a rare and intimate "Passenger Seat." "Duncan, Where Have You Gone" off of Former Lives, Ben says, "Was written for a friend of mine that I hadn't talked to in a while, and I was really worried about him. After I had written this song, I found out he was ok, which makes this song null and void. I was feeling it at the time, so I hope it comes through."
"Duncan" segued into an extended version of "Unobstructed Views," a meandering piece from Codes and Keys. To cheers and hollers, Ben played a version of "Soul Meets Body," a love song hidden in poetry and mental images that is one of Death Cab's paramount pieces. It's often difficult to write a love song without making it cheesy, but Gibbard does it easily with the lyrics, "So brown eyes I hold you near 'cause you're the only song I want to hear," -- words to make any heart melt.
Death Cab comes to Minnesota often, and Ben shared that he's always had a soft spot for Minneapolis and admired many Minneapolis musicians growing up in Washington. With the Replacements playing a big role in his teenage years, he picked his favorite song "I'll Be You" to perform for the audience. "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" is Death Cab's signature acoustic piece, and Gibbard must be tired of playing it by now, but he appeased the audience by implementing it for the last of his regular set.
While everyone stayed seated for the show, the audience was on their feet to bring Ben back to the stage to open with the softly, sweet "I'm Building a Fire," a perfect piece to keep the crowd warm in the freezing venue. With troubles tuning his guitar, Gibbard elaborated on his airport story, saying that some part of his ego wished that the baggage claim guy was in the audience and make that connection, but that wasn't the case at all. Following with "Crooked Teeth," though while satisfactory was missing the defining bass line, and ending with the touching "You Remind Me of Home," Ben delivered till the last note -- pit stains and all.
Critics bias: I was a little concerned I would be bored coming into this show, since it's difficult for a solo artist to carry a show by himself. I soon realized that Ben has enough talent to keep me entertained for a twenty-four song set. He may not have the best voice on the current music scene, but he has the "Ben Gibbard Effect" that brings magic to all music he writes and performs.
The crowd: Hardcore Death Cab fans.
Overheard in the crowd: "I'm gonna ask Ben to marry me."
Random notebook dump: I was in attendance for the Frightened Rabbit show a few weeks ago, and was not impressed by the sound with a full band in the room, but it was perfect for a solo acoustic artist.
Shepherd's Bush Lullaby
Such Great Heights
These Roads Don't Move
Title and Registration
When the Sun Goes Down
(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)
Duncan, Where Have You Gone
Blacking Out the Friction
Soul Meets Body
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
I'll Be You
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
I'm Building a Fire
You Remind Me of Home