Concert encores are often a celebration -- and that seemed to be the case when Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard trotted out to play a solo acoustic tune to launch last night's encores at the sold-out Orpheum. The crowd sang along with a gusto that suggested this could be an upbeat song like the Beatles' ''I'll Follow the Sun."
But wait a minute. It was really ''I Will Follow You Into the Dark," with Gibbard singing about a lover who was soon to die. ''But I'll be close behind and I'll follow you into the dark," he intoned. ''We'll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms."
It was a strange moment, but Death Cab for Cutie is not your everyday act. The Seattle group has its share of lite, twee-pop tunes, but it isn't afraid to also delve into the subjects of aging and death. And judging from the response last night, the crowd is willing to share its concerns and applaud the band for it.
Shortly before the end of the set, Gibbard and company chimed into the anguished ''What Sarah Said," about dealing with grief. ''I'm thinking of what Sarah said that 'love is watching someone die,' so who's gonna watch you die?" Gibbard sang. It was both ghoulish and cathartic.
These are heady issues for a rock show, but Death Cab for Cutie also balanced the night with some mood-enhancing, guitar-pop nuggets such as the opening ''Marching Bands of Manhattan" (an earnest, Coldplay-esque tune with a love-struck Gibbard dreaming that ''if I could open my mouth wide enough for a marching band to march out, they would make your name sing") and the pleasing ''Soul Meets Body," with Gibbard vocalizing, ''I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me."
Musically speaking, Death Cab was highly stylized and played many of its songs in the same key, which induced a trancelike feeling but also some fatigue. The group has some great individual songs, but the lite-pop flavor became a bit redundant, though Gibbard broke out with some energetic moments and so did bassist Nick Harmer. Guitarist Chris Walla played some exceptionally dreamy riffs and drummer Jason McGerr anchored the proceedings with a steady hand. Death Cab is still evolving, but there's no denying that its audience rapport is already at a superstar level.