Rifflandia: Death Cab for Cutie worth the 17-year wait

Day 3 of Rifflandia 2014,

Royal Athletic Park,

Reviewed by Chris Ho

The hot sun beat down as swarms of  people waited in a massive line that  veered down Cook Street. Luckily, I  wasn’t wearing my banana-suit costume  like the brave men in front of me, but part  of me wished I had. I already felt carefree  energy in the air. Royal Athletic Park was  decked out with two stages, one on either end, and a plethora of vendors and activity tents.

As I walked through the entrance, a giant banner popped out from above: Rifflandia. To my left were black wooden Artlandia panels and a big main stage. To the right, aisles of local vendors led the way to the side stage tent, fast-food trucks, and then, of course, to beer and cider taps.

I was impressed by the musical choices: indie rock, dubstep, Celtic dance-pop, 70s influenced pop-punk and hip-hop. I hadn’t encountered anything like the fiddle-infused dance-pop that is Kytami: the high-energy fiddler hardly missed a beat, even as she danced around, stirring up the crowd, her arms and fingers moving furiously to the notes.

While the main stage sound quality and setup was successful, I had a love-hate relationship with the Rifftop Tent side stage. Everyone appreciated the much-needed shade of the big tent, but unfortunately the sound was muddy trapped under the tent roof. In the end, I put it out of my mind while listening to the Dum Dum Girls.

An all female line-up, the Dum Dum Girls had one guy fill in on lead guitar. He too had awesome long hair and matched the well-coordinated black outfits of the trendy rock trio. The initial impression I had from their video Bedroom Eyes was that they overplayed the gorgeous girls with guitars shtick. But their live performance was more about heartfelt lyrics backed up by Blondie-inspired harmonies and dream-pop guitar licks.

Even though it’s predictable to say so, the highlight of day three was the headlining act, Death Cab For Cutie. As I first discovered at the group’s Pacific Coliseum performance in 2009, there is something special about a band that has played the music it loves for almost two decades. Their on-stage chemistry and energy was infectious. The crowd roared with excitement after the opening song as Ben Gibbard (lead vocals) announced this was their first show in Victoria since the band formed in 1997.

“Wow, they’re old,” I heard a young woman say.

She sounded disappointed. But to me, that was incredibly exciting: the last time Death Cab performed in Victoria, they were just starting out. Seventeen years later they’re back, an international success, still flawlessly performing some of the very first songs they wrote.

After the encore, Ben Gibbard gave a heartfelt thanks to the multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of the band, Chris Walla, who had just played his last show with the band. It was a moment to remember. The drums built up and crashed on the closing note of Marching Bands Of Manhattan and the band put aside their instruments for a group hug. A flurry of camera phones reached up to capture the occasion.

We finally made our way to the exit lights with huge smiles, plastic beer cups crunching underfoot.

Chris Ho is a Victoria musician and writer.