Two of Seattle’s biggest artists — local indie-rock heroes Death Cab for Cutie and longtime resident Dave Matthews — took a back seat on Friday to a name even bigger than theirs: the Dalai Lama. Death Cab was the unlisted add-on to the April 11 KeyArena event, on which Matthews and longtime guitar crony Tim Reynolds were billed second to the Tibetan Buddhist leader. Even more unusually, Matthews was one of the Dalai Lama’s interviewers during a show that began in late afternoon: doors opened around 4 p.m., and the final song of Matthews’ and Reynolds’ set, “Lie in Our Graves,” shuddered to a close at 9:15. It was His Holiness’s second public appearance of the day, following a morning panel at the Bank of America Arena at the University of Washington campus; both were part of a five-day tour of the city’s larger venues sponsored by Seeds of Compassion, a local nonprofit.
The evening kicked off with an hour-long dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Matthews, clearly nervous, asked the Dalai Lama how he felt music applied to compassion: “The message of love through music may be stronger in depth,” the Dalai Lama said in part. Later, Matthews noted that as part of a gang of his schoolmates, he’d fought kids from a different school, only for those rivals to have since become his best friends.
After an hour’s intermission, Death Cab played six acoustic songs, including the new “Talking Bird” (though bassist Nick Harmer’s instrument was still plugged in). “405,” “Photobooth,” “Title and Registration,” “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” and “Soul Meets Body” rounded out the set. After “Photobooth,” a lean-looking Ben Gibbard noted that he would “take a lesson from the Dalai Lama” and “try and transcend my hatred for this mike stand.”
Matthews and Reynolds took the stage a half hour after Death Cab left and played for an hour and forty-five minutes, performing eighteen songs spanning Matthews’s career, as well as a cover of Daniel Lanois’s “The Maker.” Reynolds’ effects-laden acoustic playing, which at times skirted new age with its seagull-like trills and harmonic effects, got many of the biggest shouts from the 16,000-strong crowd, with the audience particularly appreciative of his squeaking noises on “Dancing Nancies,” from 1994’s Under the Table and Dreaming.
Matthews’ between-song chatter frequently inspired laughs, not least his own stoner giggle. “Sometimes it takes me a really long time to shut up,” he admitted at one point. But he also utilized his mike time to dedicate “Sister” to his sister in the audience, and admit of meeting the Dalai Lama, “Everyone was telling me to be myself — and myself was nervous.”