by STEPHEN THOMPSON
Ben Gibbard has spent so much time at the head of various bands — Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, All-Time Quarterback — that it’s easy to forget how well his sweetly brainy songs work in a solo acoustic setting. His melodies are sturdy enough to withstand skeletal arrangements, and though his persona is unassuming by nature, he remains a charismatic and charming live performer.
Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).
In all, Gibbard’s set makes a fine choice as the 250th Tiny Desk Concert we’ve published since the series was born nearly five years ago: For all the big, elaborate set-ups we’ve entertained in the NPR Music offices, it’s always nice to return to the series’ origins as a place for quiet singer-songwriters to do their thing unadorned, without getting drowned out by other sounds. Even minus a band at his back, Gibbard warrants the undivided attention.
“St. Peter’s Cathedral”
“When The Sun Goes Down On Your Street”
Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor: Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Christopher Parks; photo by Lauren Rock/NPR