Death Cab For Cutie started in 1997 between two early twenty somethings Benjamin Gibbard and Christopher Walla, both doing guitar and vocals. Their influences were pretty much the indie wave the had hit the Seatle music scene in the early nineties: bands like Pavement and The New Pornographers were getting their fair amound of success, but also underground acts influenced the band's sound, and even their name (a song from one of Gibbard's favorite acts). Recruiting Nicholas Harmer on bass and Michael Schorr on drums, Death Cab For Cutie (DCFC for short) started to browse the local music scene. They signed to small town indie label Barsuk (pronounced bar-soock), they released their first compilation of originals. Something About Airplanes, the groups debut, was a fine but shakey record, often overlooked as their worst album yet. The band was obviously still trying to get a grasp on what they wanted their sound to be. On the following records, We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes and You Can Play These Songs With Chords, they had a firmer grip on their style, but managed to attract little attention. It wasn't until 2001, the year they released the majestic Photo Album, when they started to become a popular band. Probably their best effort to date, The Photo Album sings mild topics such as love, and also gives subtle hints to the struggling celebrity (Why You'd Want To Live Here) and childhood poverty (Styrofoam Plates. Transatlanticism was the follow up, combing beautiful melodies with crunched guitars and even some lyrics that might piss you off (Title and Regristation).
Right about now is where the DCFC clan started to take off. They joined The OC and made a song to give to the show, released the follow up Plans, and even during the Transatlanticism tour, filmaker Justin Mitchell grouped up with the guys and made a movie about life on the road. This, my friends, is Drive Well, Sleep Carefully, shot entirely on 16 mm Fuji camera.
At the beginning, we're promised that this isn't a movie about the band. It wasn't a movie about their music. It was a movie about life on the road. Gibbard has mixed opinions about life on the road, one minute he's saying how much he loves going out onto a stage and playing the same songs they played last night to a new sea of faces, the next he's saying how exhausted he is and how he desperately want's to go home. The band agrees, putting their humourous spins on it (says Harmer "we should have our own access passes for home, just to make it feel like we're always on the road".). The group is often seen flying a kite on a beach, playing baseball in the stadium or even arriving to a show at 2:00 pm getting ready for a 7:00 show. Obviously, the really want to help out.
The shows themselves are majestically shot, giving each member a fair amount of close-ups. Such songs are played as perfectly as imaginable, such as the 8:00 long Transatlanticism, including Gibbard playing a mini drumset, Walla playing piano and Harmer playing guitar. Styrofoam Plates, my personal highlight, is a soft melody of guitar and voice and gets interupted by Gibbard constantly fixing his microphone stand. It erupts into the hard rocking bridge and finally the painfully sung last chorus. The group has a hard time containing their need to rock, especially Harmer, the onstage headbanger. Even to the softest of songs (Title and Registration) he is giving his bass hell, showing his back to the audience and the irony is you can hardly hear him.
Interupting the song occasionally is Gibbard telling the story of the songs. Did you know Styrofam Plates wasn't about Gibbard, but his best friend? Or that We Looked Like Giants was Gibbard's excuse for a time machine to go back to his teenage days? All these stories and more on Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. The truly great ending for the dvd is the group playing the last two songs of the tour, in their hometown of Seattle. The two songs Prove My Hypothesis and Bend to Squares are two soft indie songs over the cheering of the crowd, who obviosly had a good time. Gibbard is almost not playing guitar, and just fiddling with his mic stand, while the others in the group are reciting chords and complex bass patterns. The perfect end to an amazing dvd.
The extras are also worth savouring. The acoustic show at a radio station features the gang propped up against a projected image of the Transatlanticism record, plucking through The New Year, Lightness and Title and Regristation, giving them the calm mood we've been waiting for. Occasionally stopped for a question from the crowd, ("Do you listen to AFI?" "Is that the band with the guy who looks like a vampire and has hair down to here?") Gibbard and the guys seem ecstatic to be in front of a calm audience. The other highlight is the rehearsel of the 12:00 song Stability, originally from the Stability EP. It gives us a rare look into The Hall Of Justice, the former recording centre of Nirvana's famed debut Bleach. On top of red carpeting and yellow walls the band are attentive to the next move of the guy on their right, and the result is amazing.
Overall an amazing, insightfull dvd. If you're a mild fan of DCFC, get it. If you're hardcore into DCFC, no doubt you should get it. If you hate DCFC but like stories about bands on the road, you should give this a try.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5