By Blake Maddux
By fronting the hugely popular Death Cab for Cutie and the beloved but short-lived Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard has maintained his visibility among fans of indie rock for more than a decade. Of course, his brief marriage to and recent divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel certainly did nothing to lower his profile.
His Sunday night performance at Somerville Theatre was delightfully intimate and low-key. By featuring no fewer than two-dozen songs, it was also nothing short of completely satisfying.
While he drew primarily from the recently released CD Former Lives, which includes mixing by local musician Tim Walsh, he generously treated the adoring crowd to selections from all of his assorted musical projects. Some of the songs may very well have been recognized by only the most hardcore among the fans in attendance.
By making the 2003 Postal Service song Such Great Heights the second selection of the evening, Gibbard was clearly eager to please.
Cutting a tall and slender figure, he played most of the show with only a microphone and an acoustic guitar. About halfway through the set, however, he sat down at a grand piano for half a dozen songs. Although he had plenty of his own compositions to choose from, he connected with a certain segment of the audience by covering My Drug Buddy, which was originally released in 1992 by the popular Boston band The Lemonheads.
Upon leaving the piano and returning to the guitar, he reached back to 1999 for the song Cleveland, which he recorded with his Death Cab for Cutie-side project ¡All-Time Quarterback! [sic] Gibbard described the two endeavors in which he was participating at this time as “A band with a terrible name and a side project with an equally terrible name.”
As the evening proceeded, large swaths of the audience sang along in hushed tones to Death Cab’s Soul Meets Body and Postal Service’s The District Sleeps Alone Tonight. Enthusiastic applause accompanied the Death Cab songs Crooked Teeth, A Movie Script Ending, and I Will Follow You Into the Dark, the latter two of which were included in the four-song encore.
The peak of Gibbard’s career may have come in 2008, when the Death Cab for Cutie album Narrow Stairs sailed a rising tide of indie rock popularity all the way to #1 on the Billboard Top 200. Nevertheless, the strength of the songs that he performed from Former Lives – including Dream Song, the new single Teardrop Windows, Oh Woe, and I’m Building A Fire – indicate that Gibbard has as much to look forward to as he does to look back on.