I always feel bad when I miss Noise Pop, partly because it's a local tradition worth supporting and partly because the festival attracts so many amazing bands, often before they catch on with the general public. In the last several years, my attendance has been spotty--often due to my goofy travel schedule--so I was glad to squeeze in one gig this year: Ben Gibbard's solo appearance at the Great American Music Hall.
Ben Gibbard, Great American Music Hall, February 28, 2011: Full disclosure--my tickets probably could've gone to a more deserving fan. I've registered my Death Cab demerits previously, but Ben Gibbard has sealed his spot in my good graces, thanks to one bulletproof association and another surprising collaboration. Besides, I'm partial to the solo frontman routine, and I know a rare outing when I see it.
Even if I wanted to, I can't tell you what songs Ben played; besides, I'm sure they're listed on a forum somewhere. He tried out a handful of songs from the forthcoming Death Cab album, but seeing as I don't know the band's old tunes, I can't tell you much about the new ones either. As an impartial listener, my main takeaway from this show was discovering Ben's gift with melody and his thoughtful, expressive lyrics.
Ben heralded one of the more memorable segments of the evening when he put away the single guitar and sat down at the baby grand piano for several songs. The big hit "Soul Meets Body" was less effective in this setting, but the Buck Owen cover was an inspired choice, even if the fans were requesting more questionable titles. Overall, the rapport between Ben and the crowd was funny, sweet, and easygoing, and it was one of the highlights of the show. Surprisingly, male voices dominated the conversation, including the flat-out declarations of love. Then again, this is San Francisco.
The absolute golden moment of the show--for me, at least--came as a complete surprise. Yes, I saw Bob Mould come in, but I figured he was merely circulating among the festival as a local resident. Wrong! Instead, Ben offered a giddy introduction, brought Bob to the stage, handed over his guitar, and dueted on "If I Can't Change Your Mind."
I've gushed and cooed extensively over Bob Mould in this blog, and I was glad to see Ben's reaction mirror those emotions. I vaguely wondered how many people in the room recognized the musical legend joining Ben, but those apprehensions evaporated as soon as the song started. I suppressed the urge to yell out for "See a Little Light" upon the conclusion of their single song, but Ben's full fanboy grin, unabashed air drumming, and unadulterated admiration said it all.
Zach Rogue opened the show, joined by Jimmy LaValle from the Album Leaf for a few songs. Clearly, I enjoy a well-chosen cover version, but Zach's selection of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" was more illuminating than most. Following that tune, it was impossible not to hear the influence on Zach's singing and songwriting--not a bad beacon at all.
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