After thirteen nights, including a couple double headers, the Salt Shed’s first series of outdoor summer shows has come to a fantastic end. Outside the Shed’s lineup seemed to good to be true when it was first announced earlier this year. Then when this final show featuring Death Cab for Cutie was announced, it seemed even more unbelievable. But as shows went by and thousands of fans were left satisfied every night, I was more than ready for this final cherry on top. Joined by Thao, Death Cab For Cutie closed out the summer at Salt Shed with a bang.
Thao Nguyen’s opening set felt a breathe of fresh air for me. Having loved Temple and missed out on her solo show at Thalia Hall earlier this year, this was my chance to hear some songs off that album for the first time. Thankfully she had ample to time to share her songs with the packed Salt Shed Crowd. Thao and her band were late tour replacements for Low, who Thao wished well as Mimi Parker deals with cancer treatment. Those were big shoes to fill and Thao and crew handled it with a furious energy. Nguyen is a force of nature onstage, belting out songs with everything inside her. Her songs just felt like blasts no matter the subject matter. “Marrow” a song she wrote for her wife felt as boisterous as the cover of M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls”. “Guts” off of Man Alive was a surefire highlight of a set full of them
Thao ended her set with “Temple”, the eponymous opening track of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s final album. Sonically, the song is an unrestrained dance track, urging you to feels its groove as deep as you can and just let go. However it’s lyrics are just a deep the other way, as Nguyen writes from her mother’s perspective and deals with the fall of Saigon, the relationship between a mother and daughter, and finding oneself. The dissonance only makes the song stronger and more exuberant as Thao screams out “Bury the burden, baby, make us proud”.
After Thao’s incredible set, Death Cab For Cutie followed up with one of their own. The band emerged to a dimly lit stage with only a single light behind Benjamin Gibbard glowing bright into the crowd. “I Don’t Know How I Survive”, the opening track of the band’s latest album Asphalt Meadows. As the song went along the rest of the intricate lights came up and dazzeled the crowd. Gibbard and crew’s stage presence made them look cooler than cool, fully giving into their music. “Roman Candles” followed and the sharp playing somehow got sharper. It was a marvel to see such a refined band take to a stage with such ease and command. Even when adversity came when Gibbard’s guitar wouldn’t cooperate during the beginning of “Here to Forever” a little later in the set, Death Cab for Cutie were composed and poised to deliver.
They touched up nearly every album in their discography, save for their debut. It was surely a hit driven set with favorites like “The New Year” and “Crooked Teeth” getting big pops form the crowd. Clearly their latest album was the star of the show and the crowd was incredibly receptive to the newer tracks, something that isn’t always a given with such long lasting and heralded bands. But Death Cab for Cutie haven’t lost a step.
At the literal middle of the set, the band departed and left Gibbard onstage alone. He stood right at center stage with just his guitar in hand as three coolly lit spotlights focused on him. The first few strums instantly hushed crowd as they knew exactly what song they were in for. “I Will Follow You into the Dark” is a stand out song for the band. Its simple but effective lyrics of an everlasting love are powerful and chilling as Gibbard tenderly serenades the crowd. “If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks / Then I’ll follow you into the dark” he sang, sending chills into everyone within earshot. The crowd sang right back to him, sharing the warm embrace of such a beautiful a song.
That centerpiece moment was built up with the rest of the night as the rest of the band returned. Nearly ever following song seemed to lift up the next. “Asphalt Meadows” lead perfectly into “You Are a Tourist.” The quicker pace of “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” opened up the crowd for the methodical first half of “I Will Possess Your Heart”. One of the more impressive moments of the night visually came for that track. The over eight minute song about obsession and toxicity misinterpreted as love had the band jamming out it’s escalating intro to a dazzling running of bright lights. The stage engulfed in red as the song’s uncomfortable mantra of “You gotta spend some time, love” echoes into the crowd was magnificent.
The rest of the show went off without a hitch. “Soul Meets Body”, another favorite, was dedicated to Thao and her band. “Foxglove Through the Clearcut” ended the proper show before encore could give the fans just a few more tracks. The final four songs switched between new favorites and some the bands more iconic tracks. The earliest song on the setlist “405” was nestled between “Pepper” and “I’ll Never Give Up on You” before the final song found it’s spot. Death Cab for Cutie finished the night with an anxious song of unrequited love. “The Sound Of Settling” rang out into the sold out crowd of Salt Shed‘s last show of the season. “This is the sound of settling Bop bah” sang Gibbard, but nothing could be further from the truth for this top tier show.
All photos by Julian Ramirez