Drive Well, Sleep Carefully - On the Road with Death Cab for Cutie (2005)
Starring: Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr
Directed by: Justin Mitchell
As a concert DVD, Death Cab for Cutie's Drive Well, Sleep Carefully isn't that successful. Of course, the big reason for that would be that it isn't a true concert DVD. Originally conceived by director Justin Mitchell to be a concert film based on Death Cab's 2004 Coachella Festival appearance, logistics in filming at Coachella forced Mitchell to change plans. Looking for a different show to hook up with the band on their tour, Mitchell (who had previously filmed Ted Leo's Dirty Old Town DVD and Songs For Cassavetes) realised that Death Cab's tour mirrored his own planned route from New York to his new home, so he proposed to follow the band on the tour, filming several concerts, and make it a tour documentary instead.
So, while Drive Well, Sleep Carefully features concert footage, with 13 tracks composing the documentary, it isn't a concert film. Documentary footage and interview segments segue into performances, and sometimes overlap them. It gives the viewer a taste of Death Cab for Cutie in concert, but not much more of one that you'd get from seeing them perform on a late night talk show. At the time of filming, Death Cab was still very much an indie band (in the process of negotiating with Atlantic, which is addressed in the film), and as such, didn't have a major label to co-produce the film with Plexifilm (who produced the movie), meaning that it had to be done by Mitchell on a shoe string budget. He shot the film with another cameraman on 16 mm film, while following the band's touring schedule on his own, setting up his own travel and accommodations (he did not ride on the bus with the band). Mitchell and his crew were very much like a supporting warmup band in this sense, which helps the film convey some of the trials and grind involved in touring.
Where it doesn't help is in the video and audio department. Presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with a limited amount of camera angles per show (two for those of you keeping score), the concert footage doesn't really put the viewer in the action. Worse, the audio mix, while Dolby, is nowhere near 5.1, meaning that the concert footage can't come close to capturing the feel of live music (if DVD ever truly can, I've only seen a few music DVDs, so I'm not sure).
Those are the negatives of the disc, and they are significant. If you're looking to experience Death Cab for Cutie in concert, this isn't the DVD for you. Instead, you have to approach the DVD from a documentary standpoint, offering a glimpse of the band on the road. The band is very accommodating for interviews throughout, expounding on the nature of touring, their newfound success with the then-current album Transatlanticism, their creative process, and the motivation behind their impending major label debut. The best parts of the film are the lead-ins to songs, which often tell the stories behind the songs, and what went into their creation. I felt the disc to be worth my time for the background story behind "Styrofoam Plates" alone (which I'd been meaning to look up for awhile now).
Unfortunately, there's little to offer in the film for non-fans or casual fans. It's very much a fans-only document, which is probably for the best, since I doubt non-fans would ever think to watch it anyway. Death Cab fans that were looking for another glimpse into the band should find themselves fans, but newcomers won't find much here to help turn them on to the band. Personally, it helped increase my anticipation level for seeing them live (which I'll be doing in three days), even if it reminded me of how much of a spazz bassist Nick Harmer is onstage (think: Jack Black in School of Rock).
Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
The Decemberists - Picaresque
The Postal Service - Give Up