Turns out rain delays aren’t always such a bad thing.
Last September, local indie rock champs Death Cab for Cutie were slated to play a doubleheader at Marymoor Park with fellow Seattle standouts Car Seat Headrest. A few songs into Death Cab’s Night One set, a rare (and highly photogenic) lightning storm blew through Western Washington, halting the outdoor concert and delaying the Huskies football game for roughly two hours.
To make it up to soggy hometown fans, ticket buyers were refunded and given first crack at snagging tickets to an intimate three-night run at the Showbox — a club the band outgrew years ago — that begins Monday. The highly anticipated gigs mark Death Cab’s first return to the cherished (and now endangered) venue since a 2013 acoustic set during Barsuk Records’ 15th anniversary celebration.
We caught up with Death Cab main man Ben Gibbard, who’s been one of the Save the Showbox campaign’s most vocal champions, to discuss the upcoming shows, his fondest Showbox memories and dodging lightning strikes. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I wasn’t there, but I remember the lightning being crazy the night the show was canceled. What was it like at Marymoor?
We had kind of a tumultuous summer of outdoor shows that weather played a factor in us having to come offstage, a couple of shows getting postponed. So, by the time one of our crew guys came over my ears, like six songs in — “Guys, we gotta cut it short. There’s lightning within a 10-mile radius,” which is the cue to shut it down — I was honestly kinda pissed. Last time we had to stop a show in Winnipeg, no lightning came through, it just seemed kinda silly. But when we found shelter, sadly unlike a lot of people at the show, we could see off in the distance some clouds. Within 15 minutes, lightning actually hit the stage. So yeah, that was the right move.
At what point did the conversation turn to the Showbox?
We started planning the makeup dates within hours of the show getting canceled. The band has been really good friends with [talent buyers] Chad Queirolo and Katie Brogan at AEG — I mean, I’ve known Chad for 20 years — and we immediately were like “We need to make this right.” If this had happened someplace on tour, someplace we couldn’t get back to easily, we probably would have just been like, look, we’re not going to reschedule. But we found ourselves with this opportunity to do the Showbox.
You’ve obviously been a vocal advocate for the Save the Showbox campaign. Did that factor into the venue choice?
We were scrambling. Because Chad and Katie had booked this show at Marymoor and they also book the Showbox, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. We were able to work really quickly and have it all set up in less than 24 hours. But also for us, the Showbox has sentimental value. I wouldn’t say this will be the last time we play the Showbox. If the Showbox is going to go away, we would absolutely play it one last time. But this was an opportunity for us to play a place that we’ve had such a relationship with, with people that we’ve known for years. There’s a lot of staff at the Showbox that have been there, God, since the first time we played there 20 years ago. It definitely feels like a nice homecoming and it wasn’t chosen for any political reason as much as it was a sentimental and logistical one.
Headlining the Showbox has become a rite of passage for Seattle artists who have gone on to make a name for themselves outside the city. Thinking back to the three-night run you guys did [in 2004] around “Transatlanticism,” did that feel like a pivotal moment for the band?
Absolutely. Growing up in the Northwest, the Showbox wasn’t always a music venue. But having the Showbox return to prominence as a music venue around the time that we had started the band, it stood on its own, as in, if you’re selling out the Showbox you’ve “made it.” That was a goal we had early on.
The first time we played there was June of 2000 and we sold 675 tickets or something like that. But that run at “Transatlanticism,” I believe, was the first time we sold out the Showbox outright. That run was a really special one for us. That whole tour was certainly a time in our career where we started to feel like things were really happening in a way that we never in a million years would’ve imagined them happening. So to end with — not just one — three shows that were sold out in advance was a very humbling experience and also a real confidence booster, like “Oh, maybe this is a real band, you know [laughs].”
What do you remember about Death Cab’s first show there 20 years ago?
I just remember the Showbox feeling like it was Madison Square Garden. It felt so big. We’d done a couple festivals or shows in bigger places, but at that point, that was by far the biggest room that we had played on our own. Even if it was just a little over half sold, looking out at the crowd from the stage it felt like people went on forever. That’s always been something I’ve loved about this venue, that there’s really not a bad place to watch the show from.
Do you remember the first show you saw there?
Well, I remember the first time I played the Showbox was in ’96. My old band Pinwheel, we came down from Bellingham and opened for Modest Mouse. They used to seal off the upper west bar and they had a small stage kind of over where the dressing rooms are, and they would do tiny shows. It was the first time I’d seen Modest Mouse. I mean, they were just a feral band at that point. It’s one of those bands I was a fan of at the time, but never in a million years would I have thought that they would become gigantic. Those guys were amazing, but they were like raccoons that crawled out of a dumpster. They were just wild and scary and exciting in all the best ways.
Jumping back to the Save the Showbox campaign, why was it important to you to get involved?
I remember seeing some criticism from some snarky local journalists. “Oh, this is just a bunch of older, middle-aged people who want to preserve their memories by saving this room. Young people today have other places they go, they don’t need the Showbox.” There’s certainly an element of truth to the observation that young people have a series of venues around town and underground performance spaces that are very unique and specific to a scene. But my interest in preserving the Showbox is not because I want to save my cathedral. I want this cathedral to be available to people for generations to come in the city.
When we were at the first hearing on this where I spoke, this kid gets up, she’s like 17. She’s like, “I want to save the Showbox because I want to sing there someday. I’ve gone and seen …” and she names off all these acts that, as a 40-something, I hadn’t heard of. When young people get up and talk about how important the Showbox is to them, it just solidifies the feeling that I’ve had from the very beginning that this is a very special place. We are incredibly lucky, in a city that’s changing so rapidly, to have something like this that hearkens from a bygone era yet still feels contemporary.
Death Cab for Cutie, 8 p.m. Feb. 24-26; Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; limited tickets remain starting at $98; showboxpresents.com