Centennial Hall is not acoustically designed for big rock shows. Stacks of speakers and subwoofers just radiate the low end off the walls, which made most of Monday night's show feel like ear torture, even with earplugs.
Each of the bands managed the problem differently. Openers The Cribs had to goad the audience into caring: It can't be easy to open for a double-decker like Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab for Cutie--the hall was full of sparkling young coeds who just wanted to see Ben Gibbard, not blokes in women's shirts. Even when the bass player asked, "Is everyone going to sit down for the whole set? Is that customary?" only two girls somewhere in the middle seemed to be interested. Everybody else just sat and watched them do their British punk-rock thing.
Everybody stood up for Franz Ferdinand, though, who plowed through the sound issues. They perform like a seasoned band, doing the whole drawn-out introduction thing and playing their hits at the end, but the drums and the bass were still overpowering the guitar, and it was hard to understand what lead singer Alex Kapranos was saying--something about the desert being exotic to lads from Glasgow, and the names of the girls the songs are named after.
After Franz Ferdinand's encore, the stage was cleared, and big white trees and houses were set up on stage for Death Cab for Cutie. Again, the drums might as well have been disposable pie tins--even when they played "Soul Meets Body," Gibbard's acoustic guitar was barely audible above the rattling. But for "What Sarah Said," Gibbard switched to the organ, and the sound levels evened out. The lights warmed up the stage, and the rest of the band's set was all the better for it--during one song, Chris Walla handed off the bass to Nick Harmer and then jumped on the organ; Gibbard wrenched some feedback out of his guitar and tossed it to a roadie, and then hopped on a mini drum kit and played a full-on freakout that built and built and then seamlessly ebbed.
For an encore, Gibbard came out alone and played "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," and all of the couples around me moved closer to each other. Emo, art pop, whatever--what Ben Gibbard does is write great love songs, which, combined with the pretty lights, more than made up for the aggravating sound quality.