BEN GIBBARD with JULIE DOIRON at The Danforth Music Hall, Sunday, October 14. Rating: NNN
Though he didn't say it, Toronto was a bit of a test run for Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard, whose tour in support of his debut solo album, Former Lives, kicks off in earnest Nov 1 in Minneapolis.
As he implored the crowd to get cozy in the Danforth Music Hall's cushy seats, he didn't seem 100% comfortable himself, at least not initially.
Fans were treated to solo versions (on acoustic guitar and piano) of many Death Cab For Cutie and Postal Service songs, including Such Great Heights, St. Peter's Cathedral, Title And Registration, Passenger Seat, Grapevine Fires, Soul Meets Body, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and I Will Follow You Into The Dark (which Gibbard saved for the encore). He also played some more obscure stuff, like You Remind Me Of Home and When The Sun Goes Down On Your Street.
These went over well - Gibbard has done solo shows before. What proved challenging were new songs, like Oh, Woe, which wasn't as smooth as the over-dubbed album version.
That said, the live solo format allowed Gibbard to slow down and let the lyrics pop out on Teardrop Windows (about Seattle's Smith Tower), and Duncan, Where Have You Gone? And Something's Rattling (Cowpoke) were very nice.
By the end of the show, Gibbard was working the crowd, promising the ladies he'd write a male version of Lady Adelaide (about a spinster) to even things out, and thanking us for choosing him over Rush (though he wished he was at that show). He further endeared himself by playing a cover of the Tragically Hip's My Music At Work, and praising opener Julie Doiron, who he said he's been a fan of for 15 years.
Doiron had a good solo opening set on electric guitar, playing a number of new songs off her forthcoming album, So Many Days (out in just over a week) without her performance coming off as an album preview. She was on a characteristically awkward roll, speaking stream-of-conscious-style about feelings, astrology, and gorging on poutine and popcorn.
She apologized for killing the mood, but this time around her banter offered a helpful foil for some of the intense subject matter in her new songs. She also delivered the best intros to Dark Horse and Snowfalls In November that I've heard from her, offering valuable context to the tunes. I suspect she made some new fans from the Death Cab For Cutie crowd.