In a sort of homecoming, Ben Gibbard played a sold out show last Friday at Showbox at the Market that may have put long-time fans of Gibbard’s various projects (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, All-Time Quarterback, and his solo work including excellent new record Former Lives) into comas. Over the 25 or so tunes he played, Gibbard traveled there and back again in a career-spanning set that had a little something for everybody. Gibbard looked and felt even more honest to himself than he ever has, and cozy with a cup of throat-coat tea and plenty of stories for fellow Seattlites, his show was a downright pleasure for everyone.
Opening the night was an excellent set by Ballard’s Damien Jurado. Jurado is quite the established artist himself, boasting a dozen records over 15 years and plenty of EPs and singles. But on Friday night, Jurado came to the stage only carrying himself, playing honestly and quietly for a gorgeous 45 minute set of new and old material. “Museum of Flight,” off his new record Maraqopa, sounded particularly beautiful in the stripped down setting. Between songs, he griped with the crowd about how high Ballard rent prices are (they are insane) and discussed the concept of not liking people. Quirks and all, Jurado was a complete delight on stage, and for those that picked up on his deadpan sense of humor, both his music and his conversation were a set worthy of the ticket price by themselves.
Gibbard took the stage to massive applause as he took a sip of tea and picked up a guitar. But for opener “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” he didn’t play a note of it. Rather, for the Former Lives a cappella opener, Gibbard sang the melody, surrounded by total silence. This intro to Former Lives is a perfect opener to the record and to the performance. Many things have taken place since Gibbard’s last show in Seattle (read the fantastic City Arts article on his past couple months here), but now we see him a man more rejuvenated than ever, and as he ends the song with “the clouds are beginning to break,” you can’t help but smile. It is wonderful to see one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation look and sound completely at one with himself in the way that he does. With that, he dives in head first to the Postal Service cut “Such Great Heights” to rapturous applause.
The set is ridiculously awesome. Not that this should come as any surprise to anyone, but Gibbard definitely balances his excellent new material with ample fan service. “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” pop up from Give Up. “Title and Registration” as well as “A Lack of Color” represent from Transatlanticism. Gibbard even reaches all the way back to The Photo Album to play a wonderful piano version of “Blacking Out The Friction” that had old-school fans losing their minds. Also present was material from One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Gibbard’s project with Jay Ferrar. But the funnest part of the set were the songs that Gibbard gave context to, prefacing certain songs with stories of playing shows with Damien and Pedro the Lion way back in the day. On others, he talked about growing beards and jokingly naming the 90s after Counting Crows. Gibbard seemed more accessible than ever, not pretending to be anything he wasn’t, and not pretending his string of solo shows were anything but. On Plans cut “Crooked Teeth,” at the appropriate place after the 2nd bridge, he yelled off the microphone “Chris Walla guitar solo!” Fans laughed along as this song about making a horrible call and letting your heart talk before your head became a common memory among friends of a different time - one that was relevant, but one that didn’t spoil the present anymore.
Next, Ben Gibbard will be travelling to Europe to do a couple more solo shows, where he unfortunately won’t be able to make as many jokes due to language difference. Do yourself a favor and check out his new record Former Lives, out now on Barsuk Records. See below for the rest of our photos!