Expect a ‘faster and louder’ show at the Bleeding Kansas Festival.
Cover story, Kansas City Star, August 03, 2006
By Joel Francis
Elvis Costello, Atlantic Records, Franz Ferdinand and Lollapalooza have at least one thing in common: Death Cab for Cutie.
The Seattle band had been building a loyal fan base since 1998 when last year it signed to Atlantic Records and released the album “Plans.” The fans rejoiced when the big label association didn’t alter the music. In fact, the band wasn’t done pushing its core conceptions.
“We knew full well when we signed (with Atlantic) that we didn’t have to,” said keyboard player, guitarist and producer Chris Walla. “If they didn’t give us what we wanted, they wouldn’t get us. What we wanted was to be able to do exactly what we were doing but with more resources and access to people.”
Walla and the rest of the band — singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Ben Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr — are headlining the Bleeding Kansas Arts & Music Festival at Burcham Park in Lawrence on Saturday. The steamy outdoor setting isn’t ideal for “Plans,” an album best suited for rainy afternoons indoors.
“We’re not performancy performers. There are no rock-star moves or laser shows,” Walla said. “Festivals are difficult for us because there are so many ‘X’ factors. We just turn it up and play faster and louder than we would otherwise.”
The more popular Death Cab gets, however, the more it plays in places that serve thousands of fans than it does intimate clubs. In June, Death Cab played Bonnaroo; Friday the band plays Lollapalooza in Chicago. In both places, Walla said, the band will adjust.
“It’s a different mind-set,” he said. “The whole performance from the stage keeps having to get bigger and bigger to reach the back of the places we’re playing.”
That’s not the only adjustment fans have had to make. It recently toured with Franz Ferdinand, whose frenetic disco rock is the complete opposite of Death Cab’s introspective, mellow sound.
“It was an exercise in counterpoint,” Walla said. “Franz could go out with American Hi-Fi or the Arctic Monkeys, but how much of one thing do you need?”
The bands were already mutual fans and quickly embraced the idea, alternating opening and closing nights.
“If we were the first band up that night, we’d start big, but if Franz would open then we’d start out super quiet,” Walla said. “We bring it back as far as we could. To highlight and contrast (the two bands) just seemed to be the thing to do.”
Death Cab recently performed with Elvis Costello for VH1’s televised “Legends” concert.
“It was especially exciting for me because Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and the first few XTC albums are my bread and butter,” Walla said. “It was difficult to find a song that made sense to us and that we could play (with Costello). It would be completely inappropriate for us to play anything from ‘This Year’s Model.’ I wanted to play ‘Peace in Our Time,’ but it didn’t work out.”
In the end, “Accidents Will Happen” and “Kinder Murder” won out.
So what are the consequences of all this mingling with strange bedfellows and playing huge festivals?
“Our musical direction right now is pretty static,” he said. “We’re just playing shows. There are no new songs or decisions about the next record.”
For a band that has been as adventurous as Death Cab has been lately, static is a new direction.