Drive Well, Sleep Carefully: On the Road with Death Cab for Cutie (2005)
"But you get in front of a crowd that's excited, and you play a song that you've played 5000 times, and it feels fresh again."- Ben Gibbard
Stars: Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Chris Walla, Jason McGerr
Director: Justin Mitchell
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:26m:33s
Release Date: 2005-07-26
DVD ReviewLabel them what you want—emo, shoegazer, etc—but Seattle's Death Cab For Cutie have quickly moved near the front of the pack of bands playing "that type" of music. You know the sound: slightly atonal vocals singing a blur of sometimes difficult to decipher semi-whiny lyrics over a rhythmic bed of churning guitars. There's a general mass of identifiable anonymity amongst bands like Death Cab, but having a song of theirs show up on the gloriously trashy series The O.C. has given their Q rating a boost, and director Justin Mitchell chose to follow them on their 2004 club tour for the rock doc Drive Well, Sleep Carefully.
An opening title card states "This is the story of a band on the road", and that's essentially what Mitchell shows, following guitarist/vocalist Ben Gibbard, guitarist/producer Chris Walla, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr as they hit the road in support of their most structurally mature release, Transatlanticism. In between live performances of 13 songs (recorded everywhere from Portland to Tampa), the band chat about what they refer to as "the psychology of touring", their "grossly professional" work ethic and the power of the Internet to allow indie bands to promote themselves into the realm of cult status and critical darlings.
Gibbard and Walla, who founded the band in 1997, do the most laid back pontificating, and they both have a very regular guy approach to playing music and working to connect with audiences via their layered, slowly built-upon song structures. Death Cab seems far away from the typical star trip rock nuttiness, and instead Mitchell captures them as quiet, unassuming musicians very much involved in the power of songwriting and performing, combined with the ebb and flow of touring monotony.
All the band chatter is fine, but the live performances showcase what the Death Cab buzz is really all about, and thankfully all the songs (save one) are done all the way through, without interruption. The exception is Styrofoam Plates, a bitter explosion about a son uncorking his real feelings to his dead father, in which Mitchell tosses in Gibbard explaining the song's derivation over an instrumental break. That's a minor beef on an otherwise stellar compiled set by Mitchell, one that includes the raw, compounded power of We Laugh Indoors, cemented with Gibbard's forlorn repetitive "I loved you, Guinivere" mantra or the uncharacteristically harsh Tiny Vessels, a song about sexual conquests in which the line "you don't mean a thing to me" temporarily tilts the band's voice in a new direction.
The doc contains live performances of:
The Sound Of Settling
The New Year
We Laugh Indoors
Title And Registration
We Looked Like Giants
Why'd You Want To Live Here
Prove My Hypothesis
Bend To Squares
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Justin Mitchell shot Drive Well, Sleep Carefully on 16mm, so the 1.33:1 fullframe transfer for this release has a slightly grainy veil to it. Colors during the interview segments are rather flat, though the generally dark concert segments, with the minimal lighting, actually fit the band's music quite well.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and during the concert sequences the mix comes across with a simple but pleasing fullness that provides a bit of noticeable bottom end, buttressing the live footage by adding some depth. Voices during the between song bits are clear at all times.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: Extras include some Death Cab rarities, including an Acoustic Set At The Metreon (11m:49s), featuring grainy, black-and-white footage the band performing The New Year, Title And Registration and Lightness; the quality of the recording is a little rough, but the performances still shine. Stability In Rehearsal (10m:03s) has the group at their "Hall Of Justice" recording studio working the bugs out of Stability, while Lightness Demo (04m:21s) sports an alternate take of the song set to a video montage of random backstage footage.
AndyCam (05m:19s) is some handheld coverage of Ben Gibbard wandering the streets, and a set of Extra Interviews (essentially deleted scenes) are brief clips of Chris On The Studio (02m:09s), Jason's Drum Exercise (02m:11s), Nick At BFD Festival (01m:05s), The Office (:48s) and Tour Highlights (02m:51s). There is also a foldout insert booklet, with four pages of insight from Justin Mitchell on how the project came about, entitled Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride.
The disc is cut into 15 chapters.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsBen Gibbard laments that "old age is just around the bend" in The Sound of Settling, an honest notion that serves as a reminder that all rock bands eventually get replaced by something younger and hopefully just a bit more relevant. Who's to say who the next big thing will be, but Death Cab For Cutie cram a whole lot of intensity and emotion into their music, blending a bookworm nerdiness into songs that are moments of whiny, heartfelt introspection.
Personally, I hate the whole "emo" tag that bands like Death Cab get lumped under, but for now they appear to doing just fine, no matter what you call them.
Rich Rosell 2005-08-03