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November 1, 2005
Drive Well, Sleep Carefully
On the road with Death Cab For Cutie
Rating: 8/10

---

Against their better judgement, Death Cab For Cutie picked up a hitchhiker on the last leg of their Transatlanticism tour. And for their kindness and generosity, they get Drive Well, Sleep Carefully, a well-crafted, revealing documentary by Los Angeles filmmaker Justin Mitchell that goes beyond the tinted windows of their brand new tour bus to make what's essentially a snapshot in time.

Through exhilerating live footage and casual interviews with depth and humor, Mitchell captures the band's last days of indie innocence. What a way to say goodbye to your virginity. By this time, Ben Gibbard and company had traded in the van and were already signed to Atlantic. Their songs were all over the OC and somehow the brutally honest melancholy and velvety melodicism of Transatlanticism had caught on with a prized marketing demographic that didn't seem capable of understanding it. But the champagne would have to wait. Death Cab still had shows to do all along the West Coast and on a whim, Mitchell asked to come along for the ride.

At this point, Death Cab was tired of being out on the road, and it shows. Though the performances are nothing short of incendiary at times and stunningly beautiful at others, the excitement of being on the road, like it always does, has worn thin. Mitchell's talks with the band at the beginning of Drive Well, Sleep Carefully make that point abundantly clear. And what Gibbard has to say about wanting to get home and do laundry isn't particularly interesting, but when Chris Walla and bassist Nick Harmer talk about their motivation and putting themselves in the Chuck Taylor Converse tennis shoes of their audience, it's a revelation.

Though the film seems hastily put together, as such last-minute projects usually are, Mitchell's expertise at deftly interspersing interviews throughout the 13 concert clips is amazing. Drive Well, Sleep Carefully is shot on 16mm film and edited so it moves fluidly from show to show. The warm cinematography is appropriately intimate, with an array of colors both muted and vibrant, depending on the mood of the scene. And the conversations are casual, but full of incredible detail. There's Chris Walla talking about the democratic, painstaking recording process for Transatlanticism while taking us on a tour of the Hall Of Justice, the old recording studio of Walla's where Nirvana recorded Bleach. There's Gibbard recalling the funeral for a friend's prodigal father that inspired "Styrofoam Plates." Later, Gibbard talks about his "most vicious" song, "Tiny Vessels," and how strange it is that songwriters are held accountable for their lyrics in a way novelists and poets aren't. It's intriguing stuff and Mitchell's ability to cover a wide variety of topics with the sort of genuine depth you don't always expect from this kind of format.

That said, what really sells Drive Well, Sleep Carefully is the live performance. What's remarkable about Death Cab is the reckless energy they exhibit on stage. Having never seen them live, I was knocked out by their energy. I expected them to stare at their own navels a lot. I expected professionalism, and Death Cab is nothing if not professional. However, they take glee in making mistakes, and seeing what can happen to their songs when notes are flubbed. Gibbard talks about the "beautiful results" that often come when everything isn't perfect and how he loved the messy live performances of the Dismemberment Plan.

Drive Well, Sleep Carefully is not just another music documentary about life on the road. It's an articulate portrait of a band that takes great pains to get it right, whether it's a concert performance or a studio recording. It's a penetrating study of their songcraft. And it makes you root for them because it shows they're aware of their audience, that they're aware of what a big deal it is for an indie band to go across enemy lines into major label territory. Go on and get you some, Death Cab. You've earned it.

SEE ALSO: www.plexifilm.com
SEE ALSO: www.deathcabforcutie.com

--
Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other articles by Peter Lindblad.

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