Death Cab For Cutie Fantasize About Orchestra Tour, Here Are Some Artists Who Have Pulled It Off

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By Zachary Swickey

Death Cab For Cutie are about to tackle the second leg of their North American tour behind their seventh album, Codes and Keys, and the group is vocally keen on the prospect of a string quartet backing them on tour.

“It would be really fun to take Magik*Magik Orchestra out,” Death Cab guitarist/producer Chris Walla told Billboard. “But unfortunately, it is kind of a nightmare to try and figure it out.”

Magik*Magik is the small San Fransisco orchestra that provided DCFC with string accompaniment on two of their new album’s tracks: “Codes and Keys” and “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” Magik even performed the tunes alongside Death Cab during their appearance on VH1’s Storytellers earlier this year.

Walla continued lamenting, “You can make a living or you can play with an orchestra. They’re totally mutually exclusive – you almost can’t do one and the other.” But the guitarist does have some faith: “I do think that we’ll be able to do some shows with Magik*Magik at some point, even if it’s not a full tour.”

We’re all for Death Cab enriching their live performances with some symphonic attitude, and hopefully the tour, or few shows, will eventually happen. It’s hard to deny the appeal of a symphony-infused show, with all the horns and strings working together to truly reshape songs or provide them with more force. Don’t believe me? Just ask these guys.

Metallica

The mighty Metallica first turned fans’ heads when they chopped off their long locks before dropping their album Load back in ‘96. Three years later, fans were even more shocked when the metalheads revealed they were planning a collaboration with the over 100-piece San Francisco Symphony to be conducted by the equally legendary Michael Kamen (the dude worked with Pink Floyd and a dozen other rock icons). Metallica’s late bassist Cliff Burton’s love of classical music was the main inspiration behind the performances, and the two San Fran gigs were recorded and released as a live CD/DVD dubbed S&M.

My Morning Jacket

Kentucky’s finest jam rockers are all about putting on a memorable live show – they often play for well over two hours – and when the Boston Pop Orchestra came calling, they understandably could not say no. BPO is known for their light classical music and attempts at breaking the barrier between fans of symphony and pop music – John Williams, the man responsible for every memorable movie score ever, was their in-house conductor from 1980-95. The outcome was an astounding performance at Boston’s Symphony Hall and a musical guest spot on the Late Show with David Letterman, where they performed the track “Gideon.”

Bjork

How could Bjork not have an orchestra? Her unique, over-the-top sound typically contains just as much string work as it does digital deliciousness. The singer recruited a massive entourage for her 2001 Vespertine tour. Helping bring her 35 shows to life were a harpist, Greenlandic choir, electronic duo Matmos, and a 70-piece orchestra that was local to each specific venue. Sounds like quite the undertaking, but the quirky artist pulled it off beautifully, which you can see on her highly recommended DVD Live at the Royal Opera House. (Bjork was actually the very first contemporary pop artist allowed to even perform at the legendary venue.)

Grizzly Bear

It’s no surprise that one of the finest indie bands to come out of Brooklyn, Grizzly Bear, have dabbled in orchestra-enhanced shows. It makes total sense for their harmonic pop sounds to be invigorated by the additional strings and percussion. The group performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2008, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and a special Halloween gig with the London Symphony Orchestra in late 2009. They also got to work with composer Nico Muhly, who has rubbed musical elbows with the likes of Bjork and iconic pianist Philip Glass.

Serj Tankian

The operatic vocal styling of Serj Tankian is a match made in heaven for any orchestra. The System of a Down frontman was approached by the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra for a collaboration in early 2009. The 70-piece orchestra happens to be based in New Zealand, where Tankian maintains his personal residency. Re-arranging the songs from his debut solo album Elect the Dead, Tankian recorded one of the shows for a live CD/DVD.