There’s a couple truly special moments in Death Cab For Cutie’s recent Record Store Day release, Live 2012, demonstrating exactly why the band would go through the trouble to bring along 9 members of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra to over 20 tour dates. And strangely enough, these moments aren’t marked by an inspired crescendo or complicated arrangement, but instead by a matching of emotive powers. In “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” for example, Gibbard’s charming take on youth, and the maintenance of such a feeling, is accompanied by an arrangement of string work that I’ll call for lack of a better term, sweet. As Gibbard laments, “When she sings, I hear a symphony,” the sweeping work by conductor Minna Choi and company makes a bright song even brighter.
Or how about “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” a track on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Gibbard’s journey into the afterlife is accented yet again by a perfectly matched arrangement, a slow sadness nearly dripping from the strings. Of course not every song can feature such pristine collaboration, and truthfully, not many amongst the tracklisting really utilize the added orchestra to its full potential. There are songs like “Movie Script Ending,” though, with the final run through of the chorus and Gibbard’s repeated use of “Highway” paired with some particularly inspired work, and “What Sarah Said,” with its gorgeous bridge, which are just great moments.
A song like “Codes and Keys” is the band at its cleanest, and after giving it a listen, you’ll know why Death Cab is considered one of the better live acts in the rock genre. You’ll be amazed at how close Walla and company get to the instrumental replication of the album version. Unfortunately, though, the orchestra just replaces the album track strings in this section, not really adding anything new. And that’s a running theme with many of the songs, such as “Grapevine Fires.” While the keyboard’s slight distortion immediately draws you in, Magik*Magik is mostly absent, at least on the recording, and doesn’t add too much to the proceedings. It’s the same story with openers “Passenger Seat” and “Different Names For The Same Thing,” which both wait minutes before the orchestra truly presents itself. And while you don’t want Magik*Magik to overpower the main attraction, there were certainly moments where you’d wish they were more present.
For a live recording, the vocals are especially sharp, while the band’s refined live reputation shouldn’t take any hits. The low end is lacking just a bit, with Jason McGerr’s drums relegated to background duty for large portions of the performance. We have to go back to the orchestra’s occasional disappearance, as well, and wonder if they were a bit more involved, yet we simply can’t pick it up. Their sections may need to be more pronounced for a more well-rounded audible experience. It’s difficult to be extremely tough on a live album, unless it sounds horrible, so on that scale, Barsuk and Bob Weston, who did the vinyl mastering, got the job done.
The double vinyl set is housed in a gatefold jacket, adorned with colorful paintings by Geoff McFetridge. No insert is included and the jacket is a little flimsy, but it shouldn’t fall apart on you anytime soon. For a Record Store Day release, and one they could of been jammed inside a 2-panel jacket, I was pleasantly surprised with the gatefold. You also have your records housed in anti-static inner sleeves.
A digital download is included, which is a clear highlight for the release, especially since this tour has never spawned other digital releases. It truly felt like an exclusive experience for Record Store Day, which is a rarity in this digital age. A CD is not included.
The success of Death Cab For Cutie’s Live 2012 truly depends on how the accompanying Magik*Magik Orchestra is utilized at different times throughout the live recordings. At its best, the string arrangements perfectly match Ben Gibbard’s style of storytelling, reinforcing the lyrical message of tracks like “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” When it dips below average, though, the orchestra disappears, or does not add too much to Death Cab’s original track. In the end, what we have are a few great moments of collaboration, surrounding by something good, but that of which we’ve already heard: the band’s typically great live performance. Barsuk Records presents a gatefold package for Record Store Day attendees, along with a much needed digital download.
“Stay Young, Go Dancing,” “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” “Codes and Keys” and “A Movie Script Ending”
Note: This is not on sale at retail locations. We’ll let you know if it ever gets a larger, retail release.