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Death Cab for Cutie Prove Vital as a Trio at Northrop

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Death Cab For Cutie With the Antlers Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis Saturday, May 2, 2015

You could assume that Ben Gibbard is Death Cab for Cutie's only indispensable member, but Saturday's Death Cab concert at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis showed that departed guitarist Chris Walla has left a six-string-sized hole in the group's stage show.

The indie heroes, newly a three-piece and on the road supporting this year's Kintsugi, brought along two touring musicians -- guitarist Dave Depper and pianist Zac Rae -- to fill the two roles Walla played in the band before exiting on good terms last summer. Sure, Depper had "Why You'd Want to Live Here" down note-for-note, and Rae played "Passenger Seat" beautifully. But it felt slightly awkward when frontman Gibbard wandered over to their side of the stage to jam out for a bar or two -- something he often did with Walla, the 17-year Death Cab veteran.

See Also: Slideshow: Death Cab For Cutie Rocks Northrop

On to things the remaining members can control, though. If you closed your eyes, or shifted your view to capture only Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr, the sold-out show had the look and the feel of a classic Death Cab concert. New tracks like "Black Sun" and "El Dorado" fit in perfectly alongside early classics like "Title Track" and "Photobooth." It certainly had all of the other hallmarks of any pre-2015 Death Cab gig, from Gibbard's passionate swaying at the microphone, to Harmer's melodic low-end and McGerr's louder-than-you'd expect pounding of the drums.

Seven of Kintsugi's 11 tracks were tried out live Saturday night, an encouraging sign that the band believes in its latest work even though it's down one major creative force. They have good reason to, because the new record, recorded with Walla before he departed, is their best in a decade.

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That fact was underscored by strong renditions of the instant classic "Little Wanderer," whose guitar tones recall Death Cab's beloved early-'00s period, and concert/album opener, "No Room in Frame," which appears to address Gibbard's 2011 divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel. The chorus of "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive" could have used the extra percussion it gets on record and it would've been great to hear "Ingenue" or "Binary Sea" live, but overall, the band gave its 2,700 concertgoers plenty of reasons to buy their eighth album at the merch table, if they've yet to be won over by its charms. [page]

Aside from a few too many looks back at 2011's disappointing Codes and Keys, Gibbard and company did a commendable job of highlighting their back catalogue's best material, rather than its most popular. This meant that Transatlanticism's "The Sound of Settling" got the boot in favor of Trans deep cut "Passenger Seat," while the opening song from their 1998 debut, "President of What," got an increasingly-rare call to the plate. Gibbard even dedicated "President" to the basement of the 7th Street Entry, referencing his band's nascent gigs at the tiny downtown Minneapolis venue and its big brother, First Avenue.

Still, casual fans weren't left in the dark (but rather followed into it), as "Soul Meets Body," "I Will Possess Your Heart" and, yes, "I Will Follow You into the Dark," all got their stage time. The greatest fear of out-of-time hand-clappers everywhere was realized by one fan in the first few rows during "Follow," when Gibbard politely told him, "Please don't clap if it doesn't work" during a particularly quiet section of the song.

That The Forbidden Love EP's "Photobooth" is played at most shows didn't take away from the allure of that gorgeously wistful tune, but the biggest treat given to Death Cab's Minneapolis contingent was "Title Track," the opening cut from 2000's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes. Saturday was the ninth show of the trio's spring tour behind Kintsugi, and the first at which they've played the song that we recently named Death Cab's #2 song ever, which followed "Passenger Seat" as the second of four encore tunes.

Things only got better two songs later, when the one-two punch of Death Cab's greatest songs was completed with "Transatlanticism." The eight-minute epic capped off an A+ encore, its delicate piano intro slowly building beautifully into that climactic, "So come on!" climax.

Only time will tell what Walla's absence will mean for Death Cab for Cutie in the studio, but the band's Twin Cities stop suggested that they'll be just fine on the big stage.

Critic's Bias: I've been a huge Death Cab fan since 2006, with Saturday's show being my fifth time seeing them. This concert didn't quite beat Gibbard's intimate 2012 solo show at the Women's Club in Minneapolis, but "Title Track" and "Transatlanticism" made for a very memorable encore.

The Setlist: No Room in Frame Crooked Teeth Why You'd Want to Live Here Doors Unlocked and Open The Ghosts of Beverly Drive Grapevine Fires Black Sun Little Wanderer Photobooth President of What You've Haunted Me All My Life What Sarah Said I Follow You into the Dark Everything's a Ceiling You Are a Tourist The New Year Cath... Soul Meets Body I Will Possess Your Heart

Encore: Passenger Seat Title Track El Dorado Transatlanticism

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