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Death Cab for Cutie at Mountain Winery

In Music
BLUE MAN GROUP: Death Cab for Cutie come to Mountain Winery behind ‘The Blue EP.’

BLUE MAN GROUP: Death Cab for Cutie come to Mountain Winery behind ‘The Blue EP.’

Generational nostalgia follows a reliable, cyclical pattern. What was once at the height of style will inevitably fall out of fashion, only to be reinterpreted and given a second life decades later. Lengthy lumberjack beards; the lean angle and long hood of the Dodge Charger; the practice of releasing singles and shorter, five-song “extended plays”—EPs—in between “full-length” albums.

“That’s been something we’ve done all along throughout our career,” says Nick Harmer, the founding bassist of the veteran Washington indie band Death Cab for Cutie. “We always end up with extra tracks when we are recording. We like to make a proper home for these songs.”

It makes sense, especially considering how obsessed Death Cab has always been with fastidiously—if imperfectly—documenting the past. Over the band’s two-decade discography, front man and primary songwriter Benjamin Gibbard has honed the art of mis-remembering. Funneling his lyrics through a lens that brings his subjects into crisp focus when viewed dead on, but quickly becomes fuzzy in its periphery.

He is the quintessential unreliable narrator. The approach works well for Death Cab’s style of heart-on-sleeve storytelling. After all, it’s hard to be truly objective about the things and people that have hurt us the most.

Death Cab’s practice of holding onto leftover materials for later repackaging falls neatly in line with their ruminative, diaristic approach. Examining their latest release—this month’s The Blue EP—from this vantage, the set scans like a carefully curated emotional scrapbook. This collection of musical clippings might have been interpreted differently when they were first recorded (mostly during the tracking of 2018’s Thank You For Today).

But that was then. Removed from those sessions, the songs comprising The Blue EP are free to take on new meaning—in the same way Gibbard recontextualizes the “souvenirs from better times” that he finds in the glove compartment on 2003’s mournful Transatlanticism single, “Title and Registration.”

For the most part, a feeling of loss pervades these compositions. Two of the tracks have the word “blue” in the title. But Harmer says there is more to it than that. “When we took a step back and looked at this collection, it felt blue,” the bassist says. “It named itself.”

EP-opener “To the Ground” imagines a car crash, which returns everything—the driver, motor and chassis—back to the earth from whence it came.

The second track, “Kids in ’99,” follows a similar storyline, as the Olympic Pipeline Explosion swallows up a group of children playing with firecrackers; the resulting blast shakes the foundation of the narrator’s home and reverberates back through the Death Cab for Cutie catalog, conjuring hazy memories of “explosions off in the distance” and “lighting firecrackers on the front lawn”—two lyrical snippets from another somber Transatlanticism single, “The New Year.”

The Blue EP’s closer, “Blue Bloods,” is both vague and specific enough to entertain multiple readings. However, looking north from San Francisco to Seattle—the hilly metropolitan home of Death Cab—it’s hard to interpret this tune as anything other than a scathing critique of the caustic influence big tech money has had on West Coast cities.

Here, our narrator watches as all the “East Coast blue bloods” argue over who loves his city the best. There he stands, “overdressed but woefully under-refined.”

One pictures Gibbard alone in a corner, the only one wearing a suit and tie at a gala populated by sales bros with Yale MBAs.

“Blue Bloods” recalls a more recent entry into the Death Cab canon—“Gold Rush,” from Thank You For Today. In it, Gibbard laments developers stripping his old neighborhood of its character, “digging it down and down / so that their cars can live underground.”

But then, perhaps I am allowing my own personal history and nostalgic biases color these songs. According to Harmon, “Blue Bloods” and “Gold Rush” aren’t so much about tech money as they are about loss.

“In these boom periods, people don’t stop to think about what makes the city and place that they’re at so special to begin with,” he says.

Death Cab for Cutie
Sep 20, 7:30p.m., $120+
Mountain Winery, Saratoga

 

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