Out the front of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, is held an annual concert series, “Rockin’ at the Knox”. With artists like Beck, Collective Soul and Hollerado playing the event in recent years, it attracts an eclectic lineup of performances to say the least. This year was no exception, with yesterday’s event featuring three acts who could serve as headliners in their own right – Phosphorescent, Tank and the Bangas and the night’s actual headliners Death Cab for Cutie – all spectacularly good live acts, who helped attract a wide variety of patrons to this mini-festival. And together helped make a remarkable night of music.
Opening things up were a local Buffalo group called Mom Said No, who, wearing matching burgundy suits, showed themselves off as a young group with a lot of energy. They’ve have adopted the pop rock genre as their own, with a light dose of punk thrown in for good measure – a band who have grown up on Weezer and the American Pie soundtrack, but dress like they are playing a Prom in the 80s. Indeed their musical influence seems to go back to that period too, while their album Welcome to the Loser’s Club, and the request for the crowd to put their L’s in the air and join said club, heralds the pop punk culture of old. While they feel like a band still figuring out exactly where they’re headed musically, the energy was impressive, as was the catchiness of the music.
Sextet (and 1/6th Australian) outfit Phosphorescent followed, as they continue touring their latest record C’est La Vie. They opened things up with the Australia inspired track “Christmas Down Under” off said record and jumped through an hour long mix of songs new and old:, “My Beautiful Boy”, “There From Here” and “New Birth in New England” among the tracks off the latest LP, “Joe Tex, These Goddam Taming Blues (Are Killing Me)” off of their 2005 LP Aw Come Aw Wry, and “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)” off of Here’s to Taking It Easy. Then there was the stunning “Song for Zula” off of Muchacho, which genuinely leads me to tears every time (and tonight no exception), and “Ride On / Right On” off the same record closing things up.
Phosphorescent are an outstanding live band, whose layered, detailed and often breathtaking tracks evolve beautifully on the stage. When I last saw them in Australia in 2014, on the final date of their Muchacho world tour, it was cemented as one of the best shows I’d ever seen. While the context of this show didn’t see it soar to the same heights, it was a flawless performance only limited by the stage time. Their musicianship is world class and whether it’s experiencing Jo Schornikow’s spectacular skills on the keys, or watching the often epic coordination between the summer and the percussionist (especially in “Around the Horn”), or just experiencing the other worldly vocals of Matthew Houck, there are few bands as good as this one.
But one band who give them a run for the money are Tank and the Bangas, a New Orleans group who blew me away when I first discovered them at SXSW, and impressed Aussies in their debut tour down under last year. Bringing in diverse influences from R&B, Soul, Hip Hop and Jazz world, the group felt as equally out of place on this lineup as they did belong as part of it. On the one hand, they’re a great live act, with a broad audience, who are joined by other bands in the same category. On the other hand, you’re putting this band of massive energy right before a band loved by Seth Cohen hipsters, emo kids and your parents too. But I loved the diversity of the set, and I felt Death Cab lived up to the occasion and put out a set of high energy too… though hardly comparable to Tank and the 10 others on stage. With backup vocalists and no less than two saxophonists, there was a lot going on on stage, as Tank performed in an inflated yellow outfit, in between two inflated clouds, and holding a big green balloon (the namesake of their latest record).
“Spaceships” opened things up, and the set also included tracks like “Big Bad Wolf” (a highlight), “Ants” – with audience participation that included making animal noises, their popular single “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.” and “The Brady’s”, which closed out the show and showed of Tank’s epic vocal range.
And finally, the headliners arrived for a 90 minute set that took audiences on a trip down memory lane, while showing off a few tracks from the new record. It felt like almost every Death Cab record was represented, with tracks form Narrow Stairs and Plans taking up almost half the set and their latest album Thank You for Today only making three appearances – though proving among the best moments of the set, especially “Gold Rush”. The rest of the set saw tracks from Transatlanticism – including its title track which closed the encoreless show in stunning fashion. Music off of Kintsugi, Codes and Keys and even The Photo Album also made appearances. The 18 track set was every part of retrospective you’d hope from a band at this stage of their career – and they performed it beautifully.
The set was buoyed by amazing lights, and Ben’s voice was immaculate, but it was a set that found its success ultimately in the overall musicianship of the group. They transformed some tracks, and blew others out into an impressive jam, that occasionally even saw Ben Gibbard shredding up on the risers.
Highlights of the set included “Long Division”, “No Sunlight”, with a solid jam at the end, new track “Northern Lights”, “What Sarah Said” with Gibbard on keys and “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” with him on solo guitar duties and enticing a minor singalong. Though it was “Soul Meets Body” that may have seen the most audience members joining in. “Transatlanticism” was an inspired choice to close the set, and if I was to pick two stand out moments of the set it would probably have been “I Will Possess Your Heart”, with its stunning instrumental intro, powerful lyrics and an outro jam for the ages making it even more impactful than the original track, and the synth laden Kintsugi track “Black Sun”, which showcases Gibbard’s storytelling at its best (and is a hidden gem on one of their weaker records). And I know I’ve already mentioned it, but newbie “Gold Rush” is just so damn good live.
Here’s the full setlist:
I Dreamt We Spoke Again
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
Title and Registration
What Sarah Said
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
I Will Possess Your Heart
A Movie Script Ending
You Are a Tourist
Soul Meets Body
Overall, Rockin’ at the Knox put on one incredible night of music, with great food also on offer thanks to some local food trucks. And with tracks like “Gold Rush” and “Northern Lights” off of Thank You for Today proving highlights, the show was a reminder of just how good the latest Death Cab record is. If you haven’t gotten behind it yet, don’t wait any longer.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
This event was held at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York on 16th June 2019. More details about the gallery and its events over the Summer can be found HERE.
The author attended this event with the support of Visit Buffalo Niagara. While in Buffalo, the author stayed at the Hotel Henry – located around the corner from the venue and sitting inside a former insane asylum. For more details about the hotel head HERE.