SAN FRANCISCO Death Cab for Cutie singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard was said to be amazed to hear that a copy of the band's Sub Pop Singles Club release recently fetched $50 on auction site eBay.
However, judging by the reaction to the band's performance Wednesday at Bottom of the Hill, it may be a sign of things to come for the fast-rising indie-pop band, which is traversing the country on a six-week tour in support of its sophomore album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (March 21), released on Barsuk.
The young quartet, which also includes guitarist Chris Walla, bassist Nick Harmer and new drummer Michael Schor, played a mix of uptempo and slower tunes from their new LP, including the epic sing-alongs "Lowell, MA," "Company Calls" (RealAudio excerpt) and "No Joy in Mudville" (RealAudio excerpt).
The 350-capacity venue was nearly full, a reversal from the band's sparsely attended debut at the club a year and a half ago. Since then, they've relocated from the sleepy burg of Bellingham, Wash., to Seattle, where they routinely sell out midsize venues.
The band took the stage shortly before midnight, following a 30-minute set of melodic, atmospheric tunes from Bay Area quartet the Jim Yoshii Pile Up, and a 45-minute tweak-rock excursion from New York's Gunga Din. Death Cab kicked off the set with the first song from We've Got the Facts, "Title Track," on which Gibbard sings about struggles against temptation. "Talking how the group had begun to splinter/ And I could taste your lipstick on the filter."
The hour-long set focused on material from We Have the Facts but also included "Underwater!," the A-side track from the band's recent Sub Pop Singles Club 7-inch. Also included were several selections from their 1998 debut, Something About Airplanes.
Death Cab approach their melodies and rhythms from unexpected angles, injecting unpredictability into much of what they do. Still, many in attendance kept their eyes glued to Gibbard, a dynamic performer with a strong voice, whose lyrics explore disillusionment, distrust and disappointment.
"They definitely know how they want to sound live, and not a lot of bands do," said John Vanderslice, 32, owner of San Francisco's Tiny Telephone studio. "They don't play as loud as a lot of other bands that play their kind of music. They slow it down, and their set pacing is irregular. But their audience is irregular they're open-minded, and they appreciate it."
Death Cab for Cutie ended the show with the explosive "Fake Frowns," from 1999's Something About Airplanes, a song that features Gibbard and Walla yelling, "We can't keep your interest now!" over a wall of guitar noise. Despite clamoring from the crowd, the band declined to play an encore.