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Political pop
Death Cab for Cutie join Pearl Jamís anti-Bush bandwagon
BY MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG

Pearl Jam have a potent political ditty in their canon called "Bushleaguer." The Dixie Chicks ó Natalie Maines, to be specific ó delivered a well-publicized metaphorical punch to the presidentís face from a stage in London last year. Bruce Springsteen has been singing thinly veiled leftist protest songs his entire career. R.E.M. have been lashing out at Republican ideology since, what, the Eisenhower administration? So itís hardly a shock that these musicians are among the acts spearheading the Vote for Change concert series, a coalition of 17 artists or bands dividing themselves into six different line-ups to play shows in nine battleground states over the course of 10 days. Itís all sponsored by the unrelenting liberal political action committee MoveOn, and itís all in the service of one explicit mission: to remove George W. Bush from the White House in November.

It is a bit surprising, however, to see Death Cab for Cutie ó who open for Pearl Jam this Tuesday and Wednesday at the FleetCenter and then return to play their own headlining show October 19 at Avalon ó participating in the tour. Aside from some socially minded benefit shows in their native Seattle, the pensive indie-pop quartet are known more for exploring the politics of personal relationships than for taking sides in the perpetual rumble between the left and the right. But as frontman Ben Gibbard explains, drastic times call for drastic measures. "Itís a testament to how fucked up everythingís gotten when people whoíve never been that political are as furious with whatís going on in the world as the people from MoveOn are. Iíll be the first one to admit that Iím not a political scholar ó I play rock music. This is the first situation in our bandís history thatís warranted our standing up and making a statement and aligning ourselves with a certain group of people, but we feel absolutely obligated to do that."

Death Cab joined the cause at the behest of home-town pals Pearl Jam when they were making plans to tour together, but Gibbard says that his bandís decision to get behind the Kerry campaign was sealed one night in March while the band were touring Europe in support of their most recent album, 2003ís Transatlanticism (Barsuk). "We were playing in Cologne, and these kids came up to us afterward who were 18 or 19 years old, and it turned out they were Marines from a nearby military base who were shipping out to Iraq the next week. It was just so moving talking to them. I got really taken aback because they were these really nice kids, and theyíre being sent to the middle of nowhere, most likely to die, for this bullshit war. Theyíre terrified and far too young, and no one can comprehend the horrors of a battlefield until theyíre in it, and I got really emotional, like, ĎThese are kids, how is this possible? Why are we doing this?í That was the moment where I knew I had to try to do something."

Gibbard knows thereís a price to pay for putting his political views out there. Heís had spirited dinner-table arguments with his father, a Vietnam vet and ardent Bush supporter. And thereís the handful of angry former Death Cab fans whoíve cried "boycott" on Internet message boards and blogs. Still, he takes comfort and inspiration from Pearl Jam and the other high-profile VFC artists who "have far more at stake, reputation-wise, than our little indie-rock band." And heís committed to Vote for Change. "My peers and I really want Bush out of office, but sometimes I think we have a hard time putting forth a united front. There are so many different agendas that exist on the left that are vying for their own moment in the sun, but the home-run swing doesnít seem to be ĎAaaaaand we all need to vote for John Kerry so my cause and your cause and your cause will all be better served.í Thatís something I have to respect about the right: they mobilize all their special-interest groups in a very effective way that has a unilateral front and rolls forward like a tank.

"So if thereís anything frustrating about people who are of my similar political leanings in this election, itís like, I know you want your right to choose, I know you want the right to marry whoever you want, I know you want to save the environment, but we have a far more pressing problem now ó we have to get Bush out of office, so you need to put down your individual sign and . . . well, you donít need to put that sign down, but please put a Kerry-Edwards sign next to it. Please do that, because if youíre truly hell-bent on moving forward with your cause, A has to happen before B."

Death Cab for Cutie open for Pearl Jam this Tuesday and Wednesday, September 28 and 29, at the FleetCenter, Causeway Street at North Station in Boston; call (617) 931-2000.


Issue Date: September 24 - 30, 2004
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