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The following post is based on an email I got from my good friend and fellow Death Cab For Cutie fan, Nikki (she’s appeared previously on the blog, in my “Pearl Harbor” post). I’ve blogged about Death Cab before, including a review of the first time I saw them live (which was awesome) and the second time (which got awkward). Nikki recently saw Death Cab’s frontman, Ben Gibbard, perform a solo show in Boston. This is her account of that night.

The concert itself was pretty awesome–it was in an old movie theater in my neighborhood. He performed a full set all solo and all acoustic–just him and a guitar and a piano. He played a mix of the new solo stuff and DCFC and Postal Service songs. His second song was “Such Great Heights” and at that point I could only think about how stupid Zooey Deschanel is.

Ben Gibbard doing his thing. (Photo Credit: Nikki Donovan.)

So, the show ended and [my fiancé] John suggested we see if we can get his autograph because it was such a small venue and he seemed like a nice guy who enjoys these smaller shows. We walked around the back of the building and his tour bus was sitting there, so we decided to hang out a bit to see if he’d appear. Within a few minutes, about 15-20 people with Sharpies and tickets and posters gathered around with us. The guy manning the back door to the theater told us that Ben walked off the stage and booked it to his tour bus.  Not giving up hope yet, we all hung around as we saw people going in and out of the tour bus (yes, with cases of O’Doul’s and Gatorade).

Without realizing it, about an hour had passed. The bus was still there idling even after the two equipment trucks drove off and everyone still kept thinking “Ben seems like such a nice guy, if he sees us standing here he’ll totally come out.” Around the hour mark people started walking away slowly, constantly looking back to see if he’d appear (two girls even came back for a drive by 20 minutes after they left).  When we left about an hour and 45 minutes after the show ended there were only four people left (interestingly enough three of the four were dudes) still holding out hope that Ben would not disappoint.  He comes off as such a nice guy–it’s hard for any of us standing out there to think he would purposely ignore us.

Not cool, Ben. Not cool. (Photo Credit: John DeMelo.)

 So here’s what has been going through my mind:

  • Should I be upset/disappointed in Ben Gibbard for not meeting fans and signing autographs? Should I let it ruin an otherwise awesome show? If he is actually a douche, should it change my decision about going to future shows or calling DCFC one of my favorite bands?
  • When I realized my feet were going numb from the cold I turned to John and told him all I hear in my head is Sonny from A Bronx Tale talking about Mickey Mantle.
  • As annoying as it was, we did have fun joking around with the other fans and didn’t realize how much time had actually passed.  It was especially funny talking to all the guys standing out there by themselves waiting for a bromance to blossom.
  • Wouldn’t it be funny to find out he was never in the bus but actually at one of the bars down the street?

Anyway…just a lot of reflection on expectations of celebrities. There are many celebrities I would never expect to engage fans and be fine with that but for some reason I thought Ben Gibbard would.  Just before we walked away John made one last attempt to get his attention by tweeting him to come out and stop making us wait in the cold which was accompanied by a picture of me outside the bus giving a thumbs down and pouting.  Too much?  Ben did not acknowledge the tweet…

And yes, we acknowledge that waiting outside the tour bus was slightly stalker-ish.

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This past Saturday night, New York City let me down. I’ll explain.

My fiancée and I scored great tickets–Row A of the Loge section–for my favorite band, Death Cab For Cutie, at the Beacon Theatre on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. We’ve seen Death Cab once before, last summer at the Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn. It was one of the best concerts either of us had ever been to. At that show, an outdoor concert, there were no seats; everyone stood and faced the stage, free to move about the giant lawn to dance, sway, or buy another beer, as the Manhattan skyline loomed at our backs. No one was fighting or jockeying for position; when people bumped  into you, they apologized.

Fast forward to Saturday night at the Beacon. The venue is beautiful inside–it reminded me of an opera house–and seemed fitting for Death Cab’s three performances over the weekend, which included an eight-piece orchestra accompanying their four usual band members.

The crowd seemed a little subdued. From our seats in Loge, one level above the Orchestra section, we could see a few heads bobbing but no one was standing up or dancing in their seats. But by the middle of the set, a few brave souls decided to stand, swaying and singing along. And by the time the set was over, everyone in the Orchestra was on their feet. (There had been tickets available in Orchestra, but I thought the first row of Loge would be a better value than the back of the Orchestra. I was incorrect.)

Meanwhile in our section no one was standing, save for a couple of energetic people next to us. When Death Cab came out for their encore, which is usually five or six more songs, my fiancée and I decided to stand up in our seats as the Orchestra fans were doing below us. That’s when we heard the people behind us. “Sit down please. Sit down please!”

We turned to address the angry couple behind us. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “This is a concert. It’s the encore! You could stand, too.” The male half of the couple said, “If we stand then the people behind us are going to hassle us.” Still incredulous, I implored them. “But it’s a concert!”

Then I got a response from the guy’s girlfriend that floored me: “This is the Beacon. If you want to stand, go to Brooklyn.”

Furious and frustrated (and a little confused by what the hell that even meant), we took to the aisle to stand, staying out of everyone’s way and hoping to enjoy the rest of the show. Within seconds, security ushered us right back to our seats, which meant we had two options: 1) stand and deal with the lames behind us for five more songs, or 2) give in and sit, and try to enjoy the rest of the concert on our butts. We opted for #2; as much as I enjoy arguing with strangers, I paid good money for Death Cab and they were my priority.

When Death Cab left the stage, my fiancée immediately turned back to our buddies behind us for a parting shot–but they were gone. While we were staying seated for their benefit (and to avoid the headache they were giving us) they had snuck out before the last note in an effort to avoid a confrontation. We couldn’t help feel a little disappointed–we were  hoping to get further explanation on the Brooklyn comment…

As I write this now, a day later, I’m still stunned. I don’t even know where to begin. Much has been made the last few days about fan etiquette after an incident at a Rangers-Yankees baseball game. And I’ve written before about fan behavior and  etiquette at the U.S Open. Part of going out to live sports or music event means dealing with people, many of whom have different opinions and habits than your own. But I’ve been to enough concerts to know that unless you’re at the opera (or possibly seeing the Beach Boys at Jones Beach), people are going to stand up to engage with the performance on stage. To look behind me and see 20 rows of people not standing–and yelling at us when we did–was and still is mind-boggling.

I don’t often ask for reader feedback on this blog, but I’m dying to know what you think. To sit or stand, that is the question!

UPDATE (11/7/12): I posed the question–sit or stand?–to the New York Times’ new The Ethicist columnist Chuck Klosterman. He settled the debate, kind of.

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Going into last night, I had never been more pumped for a concert. Sure, it wasn’t Jay-Z and Eminem at new Yankee Stadium, or Pearl Jam at the Garden. But it was my favorite band, Death Cab For Cutie, playing an outdoor venue in Brooklyn in the summer, and I was pumped.

A couple months ago, I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get to see Death Cab when they came to town. I tried to navigate Ticketmaster.com in the precious few moments when tickets were still available for their Manhattan show, from about 12 noon to 12:15 on a Saturday in the spring, but had no luck. So when they announced they were sticking around to play at the Williamsburg Waterfront on a Tuesday night in August, I was there.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t actually heard of the Williamsburg Waterfront before, or that the tickets were a little more than I wanted to spend—$50 apiece after Ticketmaster’s generous processing fees—or that I usually play softball on Tuesday nights. The second I emerged from the Bedford Avenue L stop, I knew I’d made the right decision.

New Yorkers are quick to label any 20s or 30s Brooklyn resident a hipster, which is only true some of the time. But as I spun myself in circles trying to figure out which way the East River was, I felt a great vibe. Lots of shorts and dark rimmed glasses and flip flips and fedoras and tattoo sleeves. My kind of people.

Taking the advice of a fellow Yelper, I stopped in at Teddy’s Bar and Grill to wait for my girlfriend and take advantage of their terrific happy hour, $1 pints of Bud or Bud Light. The doors at the Williamsburg Waterfront were scheduled to open at 5:30, and I had read online that the opening act, Frightened Rabbit, would start around 6 and Death Cab For Cutie wouldn’t take the stage until after 8.

Having never been to Teddy’s, it had the feel of a neighborhood bar. While I drank my first pint, the guy next to me shamelessly asked me to remind him how to spell the word “brief” for a text he was composing. Once he left, I eavesdropped on the bartender’s braggadocio as he assured two female patrons that he could make any cocktail they wanted, because he was a “Manhattan bartender.” Meanwhile two older gentlemen lamented their poor decision to stop in on a Tuesday night, remembering too late that we concert goers would take up all the good seats at the bar.

My girlfriend arrived as I was finishing my first pint, and we chatted about each of our days at work and tried to keep our cool among the hipsters over how excited we (mostly me) were for the show. I quizzed her on her favorite songs from the two Death Cab albums I put on her iPod (Plans and Narrow Stairs) and we filled up on the cheap beer, anticipating the considerably higher prices for Brooklyn Lager ($6 for a 12 oz cup) we’d be paying later at the concert.

After ordering the last of our three rounds of Bud Light, I hit the bathroom. I struck up a conversation with a couple of guys waiting on the line with me and we discovered we were all going to the concert. A local overheard us talking and interrupted to tell us that typically the headliners during the Tuesday night Williamsburg Waterfront concerts don’t get on until after 8, but that “Death Cab seems to have their shit together, so they’ll probably start around 7:45.” I checked my phone: it was 7:32.

I finished in the bathroom and hustled back to the bar. We chugged the rest of our pints and jogged the three blocks from the bar to the Williamsburg Waterfront and entered the gates. Death Cab was already on stage and in the middle of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” I was disappointed that I had missed the band take the stage (I found the set list online the next day and it turns out we hadn’t actually missed any songs), but I was still giddy as we slipped through the crowd to find an open spot to stand. (Also, we ran into this guy.)

A few fellow Death Cab fans had told me the band puts on a great live show, and they were right. Despite little in the way of visual effects, nothing more than four low-tech LCD screens blinking lazily in purple, orange, and green behind the band, the music was great. After a few songs, lead singer Ben Gibbard stopped playing and asked the crowd to turn around to take in the sunset behind the Manhattan skyline and tell us “what a beautiful city you have.” It didn’t surprise me one bit that Ben Gibbard, as gifted a songwriter as he is, would pause his own concert to appreciate a perfect moment like that.

My friend Nikki had been to the show the night before in Boston and said Death Cab played a two hour set there. As they jumped around from album to album, they had played 20 songs when Ben thanked the crowd and told us to “get home safe” around 9:10. I’m not a huge concert guy but I knew enough to anticipate their encore a few minutes later. They re-opened with “Home is a Fire” off their latest album, Codes and Keys, then two of my favorites, “Title and Registration” and “The Sound of Settling,” before ending with “Transatlanticism” as the crowd chanted “I need you so much closer…” in unison over and over again.

When I woke up the next morning, I still had “Transatlanticism” stuck in my head, along with a crumpled orange souvenir t-shirt ($25) and a few Facebook photos my girlfriend had posted. And at the risk of “PH-ing” the experience, I’ll say it was easily the best concert I’ve ever been to.

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