When the Cafe du Nord and the Swedish American Music Hall shuttered their doors December 2013, it resonated the idea that live music in San Francisco was seriously in trouble.
Things seem a bit bleak still, but once in a while, news comes along that revives hope for the city’s music scene. Not too long ago, Noise Pop announced that they’d be taking over the Swedish American Music Hall, and would open up their annual festival with a major act at the newly christened venue.
Come to find out, it was Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, with Rogue Wave‘s Zach Rogue opening. There was just one caveat: Gibbard broke his hand a few days before and couldn’t play guitar. Luckily, rather than canceling, Gibbard secretly recruited a friend to play along with him: Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon.
The night started with a Rogue on an intimate stage in the freshly-painted room, playing guitar for pared-down tracks, eventually bringing on longtime bandmate Pat Spurgeon to accompany him with some shakers and cymbals, before closing with “Lake Michigan”.
Gibbard entered the stage a bit later, seeming a bit embarrassed about his hand break as he mentioned needing to look up YouTube videos to see how non-instrumental vocalists (“like Adam Levine”) perform onstage without holding anything.
Kozelek, who is a local San Franciscan, more than lived up to the job, adding arpeggios and embellishments to classic Death Cab songs, including some from the upcoming new album Kintsugi like the heart-wrenching “No Room in Frame“. Kozelek was particularly excellent, especially considering he learned all the songs “in the last 12 hours.” Gibbard seemed just as star-struck as the rest of us, giggling that “I gotta geek out, I can’t f*****g believe he’s playing guitar.”
Because the stage at the SAMH doesn’t exactly have any sort of way of escaping into a green room, Gibbard employed what he called the “non-core”: rather than exiting the stage for 30 seconds after pretending to finish the set, he stood on stage trying to not be awkward, instead hiding in the corner chatting with Kozelek. They then launched into the gorgeous “Such Great Heights“.
While it was maybe not exactly what the Noise Pop audience expected, it was fully odd, exciting, and amazing—but then again, that’s all very San Francisco isn’t it?