Another year of Noise Pop ended Sunday night at the Great American Music Hall with more of a polite indie rock bow than the requisite bang, as members of Death Cab For Cutie, Rogue Wave, Husker Du and The Album Leaf all took the stage at various times to play to a dedicated, capacity crowd.
Rogue Wave’s Zach Rogue kicked things off, totally humbled that headliner Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie) had asked him to take the opening slot. Except for some stragglers at the back bar, judging from the quiet in the room, it seemed there were lots of Gibbard worshippers who doubled as Rogue Wave fans.
A few songs into the set, Rogue called pianist Jimmy LaValle to the stage, better known as the leading force behind ambient instrumental act The Album Leaf, and guitarist for post-rock instrumental act Tristeza. My favorite moment came when Rogue played the acoustic version of his band’s cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” which you might have thought you recognized as the trailer theme to Rachel Getting Married, but apparently that was a black market, unauthorized version of the tune.
The Great American Music Hall is a perfect venue for acoustic shows, and Gibbard’s 20+ song set was intimate and cozy. It was great to be among hardcore Death Cab fans, and even more fun to hear familiar songs in a whole new light. Gibbard started with “Steadier Footing” from The Photo Album, then moved on to “Title Track” from We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and onto “Photobooth” from the Forbidden Love EP.
He moved around from one era of the band’s catalog to another without favoring any particular album, but singles “Cath…” and “Title and Registration” got the most audience response, as did a notably somber piano rendition of the band’s 2005 breakout hit “Soul Meets Body” — an interesting take on one of their poppiest, most radio-friendly songs up to that time.
Other highlights of the piano portion of the set were requisite love song “Passenger Seat,” and a new song called “When The Sun Goes Down On Your Street,” which continued the themes of love, old age, and death that Gibbard and Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla started to explore on Plans with “What Sarah Said” and “Brothers On A Hotel Bed.”
There was a lone second mic sitting at stage left, which led to a lot of murmurs about Gibbard’s wife, Zooey Deschanel, making a guest appearance.
Turned out the special guest was Husker Du songwriter and Gibbard’s self-proclaimed hero, Bob Mould, who stole the spotlight for a few minutes for a duet of Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”
The only times I tuned out were during “Grapevine Fires” and “The Ice Is Getting Thinner” from 2008’s Narrow Stairs, though not surprisingly: those songs are hard to follow on record, and even harder to follow when accompanied by just an acoustic guitar.
Gibbard closed the set with an acoustic version of his one-off side project’s electro-pop hit “Such Great Heights,” which ironically had more in common with Iron & Wine’s sleepy version from back when Zach Braff met Natalie Portman.
Check out the photo gallery from the show HERE.
Going back in NoisePop time, another notable set from this year’s festival was local pop band AB & The Sea opening for Ted Leo at Bottom of the Hill. Lead singer Koley O’Brien made the place feel like a 50s prom, and the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and a scene from That Thing You Do!, all at the same time.
It was an all-ages show and there were a lot of young’ns in the crowd, as well as a whole fan club of screaming girls for drummer Troy Lawton. They were also some of the only audience members not afraid to dance to AB’s oh-so-danceable tunes. Everyone else was a little too cool, despite O’Brien’s boundless charm and the energy of really well-executed pop music that put the “Pop” back in Noise Pop (couldn’t help myself). Local teen quartet The She’s, who also sound like they stepped out of the 1960s, sang backup with the boys on a couple songs including the awesome and catchy “Baby You” (though sadly missing the sax solo this time around).
It may not be real summer for another 7 months (in SF time), but pick up the band’s new EP “Run, Run, Run” — a cheaper alternative to racking up next month’s PG&E bill.