by Mike Corrigan, Miranda Hale and Serena Carlson

Have you heard the buzz? Death Cab for Cutie is coming to Spokane. In addition to the commotion that announcement has likely caused among local indie rock fans, consider that DCfC's show at Fat Tuesday's next Wednesday night will also represent the launch point for the Seattle quartet's new national tour.

"That may be a blessing and a curse all in one," laughs Death Cab's Ben Gibbard. "The first show of the tour. But I'm really excited about Spokane because we've never played there before. It should be the perfect way to start the tour."

And what a show it promises to be. Buried within the band's hour-and-a-half set, Gibbard says, will be many familiar songs from the band's previous albums -- The Photo Album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, et al. -- as well as nearly everything from its forthcoming new album, Transatlanticism (Barsuk). As the album won't officially be released until October 7, the beginning of the tour (in particular, the Spokane stop) will represent the moment of first exposure, the first time most fans will get to hear the new batch of tunes. For added zing, the equally buzzworthy Long Winters, the Seattle group responsible for this year's beautiful and eclectic When I Pretend to Fall (also on Barsuk), will open the show.

Death Cab for Cutie was formulated six years ago in the small western Washington college town of Bellingham by singer/songwriter/guitarist Gibbard, keyboardist/guitarist/producer Chris Walla, bassist Nick Harmer and then-drummer Nathan Good (the drummer's spot is now occupied by Jason McGerr). A cassette-only song collection called You Can Play These Songs With Chords recorded by Walla and featuring Gibbard on all instruments was released in the summer of 1998. The response to the tape was so overwhelmingly positive, it inspired Gibbard and Walla to form a proper band. Critical praise and zesty fan appreciation has greeted every subsequent DCfC release.

Though the band signed with Seattle independent Barsuk for the release of its debut CD/LP, Something About Airplanes, the band briefly had the luxury of choosing between the small label and an imprint with major affiliation.

"There was a time, like five years ago," explains Gibbard, "when a label came to us after the first record and we thought, 'You know, let's see what they have to say.' But we just kind of got to a point with them where it was, 'You know, this is not the answer.' It was nothing as dramatic as walking away from the table or anything, but we ended up not doing it. Which would turn out to be a good thing, as that label folded five months later."

Though being on a small independent label has given Death Cab the space and freedom to produce music without the burden of major label-imposed mandatory hit production and related intrusions, Gibbard concedes that there are compromises with any arrangement that has anything at all to do with business.

"I think maybe it's a misconception that being on an indie is like, all you do is just sit around and work on songs and everybody does 'Kumbayah.' In a certain way, being on an indie makes you even more conscious about your business. Getting ready for this tour, we're not only sitting in this practice space working on songs. We're like, 'All right who's paying for T-shirts? What are we going to do about press?' [Note: They've just hired a full-time manager.] As much as it's a very wonderful, creative process to make music, we're definitely to a point now where there's a level of commerce involved, which is not necessarily bad. And you always have to take the good with the bad."

The "good" here is most definitely the new album. Without giving too much away, you all should know that the familiar DCfC signposts are here: deft arrangements incorporating melodic guitars, subtle electronica and open space as a backdrop for Gibbard's approachable vocals that, in plain language, take small pleasures, common longings and the acute melancholia of modern life to glorious heights. Yet Transatlanticism is gentler and more introspective that any previous DCfC release, with a sound and a feeling reflective, perhaps, of what Gibbard reveals as the band's new recording modus operandi.

"This record is very different from any record we've done before," he says, "in that we didn't work on any songs together until we started rehearsing and arranging songs for the record. I had like 25-30 songs/ideas, which varied in quality and completion. Then we narrowed down the field to the songs we wanted to take in. As with everything we've put together, there were little bits of rewriting in the studio, with everyone in the band contributing. I wouldn't say that there is any more flat-out collaboration [on this record] as much as I think the environment for doing so was much better just because we hadn't burned out on the material. We hadn't played it live, so it was all a fresh palette. In the past there'd be times like with recording 'Movie Script Ending' [from 2001's The Photo Album] where I had a different guitar part and Chris would be like, 'Listen, you can't play those 16 notes, they don't work against my 16 notes' and I'd be like, 'But that's what I've been playing all tour!' There was none of that. It was just like, let's get in, piece it together and then we'll learn how to play it after we finish the record.

"That's been kind of the exciting/scary part about working on this stuff," adds Gibbard with post-rehearsal adrenaline still in his bloodstream. "It's still to be said whether or not people are going to buy it live. I think we have it pretty well clocked, but we'll see how it all goes down."

Let's not forget that danger is a vital component of good rock 'n' roll.

"Yeah, it's strange. But it seems like this time the danger is not as much, you know, 'Hey, my guitar is on fire' as much as it is, 'Man, I don't know if people are gonna like these two songs together.' "

Four Best Friends -- The All Girl Summer Fun Band is all that its name suggests and more. The band makes deliciously effervescent indie pop that explores the complexities of life and relationships within the context of an almost superhero-like band of supportive and fun-loving friends: Kathy Foster (drums, bass, vocals), Kim Baxter (guitar, keyboards, drums, vocals), Jen Sbragia (guitar, vocals), and Ari Douangpanya (bass, drums, vocals).

The girls are all veterans or current members of other Northwest projects. Sbragia was a part of the Softies and Foster is one-half of the boy-girl duo Hutch and Kathy. These are girls you'd like to hang out with, paint your nails with and talk feminist theory with. Their music is the perfect synthesis of cute and smart, of bouncy and honest. On their aptly titled "Theme Song," they sing that "They're nothing big / But they're nothing small / Just four best friends that you'd like to call."

The band formed five years ago after a Softies show when Foster approached Sbragia with a tape of her music. Soon, the four came together and began to make their fun, poppy, girl-positive music. Utterly unafraid to let their enthusiasm show (a rarity in the often stiflingly conformist and "hip" world of indie music) and working within a genre where it is too often considered uncool to dance or show excitement, the group sings about boys, crushes, friendship, love, heartbreak and the great times they have together.

Their eponymous debut album was released in 2002 by K records. The band's next outing, 2, was released last April, and provides more of the band's typically exciting and hopeful pop with even more lyrical and instrumental versatility. They tour constantly, and have traveled with Calvin Johnson, Mates of State, Dub Narcotic Sound System and Modest Mouse.

Whatever may come, these girls are in it together. They stand united and together can deal with any rude boy or heartbreak that comes along. And that message is so important. Like William Blake, they understand that the line between innocence and experience is where the gritty beauty of reality lies. They seem, with the support of friends, determined to find and enjoy that beauty as much as they possibly can. And nothing is more "girl power" -- or fun -- than that.

Let the Sugar Flow -- God, I hate Def Leppard. Well, not really. Def Leppard, those '80s English hair metal balladeers, don't deserve my hatred. Pity, perhaps, but not hatred.

I speak out of spite, in memoriam for my fax machine. Def Leppard's publicity office couldn't manage to schedule an interview for me. Instead, I was sent a multitude of press clippings. In triplicate. They were very picture-laden and laid out with heavy print and dark ink. My fax ran out of paper twice, toner once, eventually overheated and stopped printing altogether.

I guess you can't fault the publicist's enthusiasm. She is, after all, faced with the daunting task of promoting a band whose heyday has already come and gone. Def Leppard (the band plays at the Arena next Tuesday night) hasn't had a hit single since 1993. Nevertheless, the band remains popular with its original, now aging, mid-'80s fan base.

Def Leppard was formed in Sheffield, England, in 1977. They honed their chops in local pubs and self-released their first EP, Getcha Rocks Off, in 1978. Their full-length debut album, On Through the Night, was released in 1980. The follow-up, High n' Dry became a huge hit in the U.S. as well as in the U.K. due to heavy MTV exposure of the video for the single, "Bringin' on the Heartbreak." The band toured relentlessly in the early '80s behind metal powerhouses like Ozzy Osborne and Judas Priest. Def Leppard's 1983 offering, Pyromania, sold 10 million copies.

Disaster threatened to sideline the group when drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident soon after the band began recording its next album, Hysteria. Yet Allen was almost immediately outfitted with a custom-made electronic drum kit allowing the band to pick up the pieces of what would become their best-selling record. Though panned by critics, Hysteria would eventually spawn an amazing six Top 20 songs: "Animal," "Hysteria," "Love Bites," "Armageddon It," "Rocket" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" (you know, " got the peaches, I got the cream -- something something -- sex with me...").

But Def Leppard's popularity had peaked. The next album, Adrenalize, was tainted by the drug overdose death of the lead guitarist, Steve Clark. It debuted at No. 1 on the charts in America but ultimately failed to match the sales of Pyromania and Hysteria.

A dwindling fan base hasn't stopped the group from cranking out the rock, as it were. Def Leppard has released five albums in the last 10 years -- Retro Active in 1993, Vault in 1995, Slang in 1996, Euphoria in 1999, and X in 2003. Still, it's the old songs the faithful will be dying to hear.

Publication date: 09/25/03

Into Africa Auction @ CenterPlace Regional Event Center

Fri., Sept. 30, 5:30-8 p.m.
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