Death Cab for Cutie

A little more than a decade ago, a Seattle band thrust underground rock's sensibility into the mainstream by reinforcing punk with metal. And though, with its offering of folkie alt-pop, Death Cab for Cutie -- the Seattle quartet that on Sunday played the first of two sold-out nights at the 9:30 club -- may not sound much like Nirvana, both groups have attracted a crowd by singing about loneliness, alienation and the possible consolation of death.

It would be difficult for a live rock band to sound as hushed and stark as Death Cab does on its recent major-label debut, "Plans," and the group didn't attempt to do so. Front man Ben Gibbard held that album's quietest song, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," for an encore, and built the main set around a broad survey of the band's back catalogue, with a fair number of uptempo songs and raucous moments. The musicians interjected boogie-rock passages into "Crooked Teeth" and "Why You'd Want to Live Here," and undercut the tunefulness of "The Sound of Settling," perhaps the band's best-known song, with discordant guitar.

During its gentler moments, the performance revealed Death Cab's affinity with another band with a punky disposition and a folkie sound: Dashboard Confessional. The Seattle band's audience is older than Dashboard's, but just as likely to turn an intimate confessional into a campfire singalong. Such lines as "Soul Meets Body's" vow that a paramour is "the only song I want to hear" were echoed by hundreds of voices, turning Gibbard's private musings into group hugs.

-- Mark Jenkins

Rene Marie

Jazz vocalist Rene Marie didn't surprise anyone at the Birchmere on Sunday night when she sang of having no interest in "straight-line melodies."

"I speak in orbits," she added.

Displaying exceptional technique and a willingness to challenge herself and her listeners, Marie reconfigured familiar melodies in fresh and sometimes daring ways, thoroughly revitalizing Bob Seger's weary road song "Turn the Page" and the jazz standards "If I Were a Bell" and "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!" in the process. Her own songs, whether inspired by dark chapters in her childhood or idyllic days spent on the water near her new home in Colorado, also helped personalize the concert and revealed yet another facet of her still under-recognized talent.

Not unlike the late Betty Carter, Marie is a live wire onstage, pacing back and forth, caught up in the emotions of the moment or the swing and funk grooves produced by her responsive trio: pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Quentin Baxter. But because her finely honed musicality is even more impressive than her dramatic flair and stamina, she never reaches for something she can't firmly grasp. That she's still adding tunes to her distinctive repertoire is both good and bad news: good because Marie never delivers the same batch of songs in concert; bad because some of her most striking interpretations don't always make the cut. "Suzanne" and "Strange Fruit," for example, were replaced on this visit by choices that weren't nearly as absorbing.

-- Mike Joyce