Ben Gibbard pulling out all the stops for Thalia Hall solo weekend

“It’s really an opportunity to open up the catalog and play some stuff that either [Death Cab for Cutie] doesn’t really do often or stuff from either projects I’ve been involved with, and maybe some weird covers,” Gibbard hints.

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Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs on stage during KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Forum in 2018 in Inglewood, California.

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs on stage at The Forum in 2018 in Inglewood, California.

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This weekend, Ben Gibbard takes over Thalia Hall for a series of three intimate shows that will put his full songwriting prowess on display, showcasing a mix of narrative aplomb and humanistic pull that has made him The Bard of the new millennium.

As the frontman of indie emo giant Death Cab for Cutie, part of the now-defunct electronic project The Postal Service, and with a wealth of one-off endeavors like the Kerouac-themed collaboration with Jay Farrar and a lone solo album released in 2012, there’s a cornucopia of material to choose from — though he hasn’t decided exactly what he will tap into just yet.

Untitled

BEN GIBBARD

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24-26

Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport

Tickets: $38 Sunday only (Fri-Sat sold out)

Information: thaliahallchicago.com


“It’s really an opportunity to open up the catalog and play some stuff that either the band doesn’t really do often or stuff from either projects I’ve been involved with, and maybe some weird covers,” Gibbard hints. “I always keep the set list from every show I’ve played going back almost 20 years. So I’ll see what I played the last time I was in Chicago [including a similar stand at Thalia Hall in 2017] and go from there. It’ll be my chance to have fun with the song list and not keep it to just one catalog while [Death Cab] is on a break.”

Just don’t expect any new material, he says. “I tend not to workshop new songs. To be honest, playing new material live has been ruined by the Internet. There are some ways in which our lives have been made better with social media, but the one unfortunate thing for pretty much every performer I know, is that it puts a damper on being able to try stuff out with an audience.”

Not to mention the surprise factor. At a recent stop on Lana Del Rey’s Norman F- - -ing Rockwell tour, the singer brought Gibbard on stage for a rendition of Death Cab for Cutie’s hit “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which was blasted out by every major music blog before the show even wrapped.

Clearly extending his music tentacles, Gibbard most recently collaborated with Chance The Rapper on the latter’s “The Big Day” album on the song “Do You Remember,” which nearly took the Internet down when the long-awaited album was finally released last summer. The two then regrouped when Chance made a surprise appearance during Death Cab’s Lollapalooza set in August.

Ben Gibbard

Ben Gibbard

Eliot Lee Hazel Photo

“We met at Bonnaroo in 2016. Somebody was like, ‘Hey, Chance The Rapper wants to come say hi.’ I had heard the name, but had no idea of just how famous he was. My era of hip-hop is the ‘90s,” Gibbard says, laughing.

“I didn’t know his music at the time, but I started delving into it and became a fan after meeting him. We had talked at Bonnaroo about working on a track together. Years went by and I thought, am I supposed to call him back or reach out about this? But in May of this past year he had me come to Chicago and work on the track. It was interesting controlled chaos — to walk into this studio as the record was supposed to be coming out two weeks later. But it was a true career highlight to work with him, he’s such a solid dude. I think the world would be far better off with more people like Chance in the world. He’s so philanthropic and progressive.”

Gibbard is no stranger to giving back and talking about the big issues, either. Death Cab for Cutie’s last album, 2018’s “Thank You For Today,” was dedicated to the memory of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson who died by suicide in May of that same year. The band has contributed donations to the Tiny Changes mental health charity started in Hutchinson’s wake. In December, Gibbard also penned an open letter for the pipeline safety watchdog group Re-Sources in his home state of Washington, and of course there’s the “Million Dollar Loan” song that Death Cab contributed to Dave Eggers’ “30 Days, 30 Songs” project that took aim at Trump after the 2016 election. Though, Gibbard says recently he has taken a step back from the soapbox.

“My personal philosophy has evolved as far as political engagement goes as a performer,” he admits. “We just don’t get a break from this mother- - - - - - . It’s every day. Everybody is getting on stage and spending 10 minutes talking about Trump and it’s become this tired, old choir preaching. I came to this conclusion myself that I wanted to make sure when we are going out and playing shows, even if it’s in benefit to a cause we feel strongly about, I want it to be an experience where people can come and get a few hours rest from all the problems. A lot of our fans I know feel frustration in what’s happening in government right now and frustration with the leader of our country. I just want to give people an opportunity to get a break from that and truly be an entertainer.”

And as far as writing new material, he has the same opinion, adding, “As I get older and continue to do this and continue to enjoy doing it, I feel even more firmly in my resolve that I want to write about things that have always inspired me and not necessarily chase the contemporary political thread.

“I don’t think that after writing 22 years of songs about interpersonal relationships and the minutiae of human interaction I’m going to be able to shift to like Billy Bragg level of astute political writing. That is an urge I’ve had to fight myself. I want to make sure the music we are making is continuing a dialogue we began 22 years ago because music holds very near and dear places in people hearts and marks time in ways that no other art form really does.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

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