In May of 1980, four days before frontman Ian Curtis died by suicide, Joy Division recorded a new song called “Ceremony.” It was the last song that Joy Division ever recorded, and that recording wouldn’t see release until years later. When Curtis died, the surviving members of Joy Division went on to form New Order. New Order’s first single was a new version of “Ceremony.” So Ceremony is a poetically important song — a great thing borne of tragedy.
Over the years, a lot of other artists have done their own versions of “Ceremony”: Galaxie 500, Radiohead, Chromatics. Last night, Ben Gibbard joined the club. This week, the Death Cab For Cutie frontman started doing something very cool. While the current pandemic is forcing all of us to stay in our houses, Gibbard is playing solo shows in his home studio every day, singing into his webcam and livestreaming out to the world. Gibbard is digging through his own catalog of songs for these sets, and he’s also getting into some covers. During his first solo show, he covered Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” Yesterday, he did “Ceremony.”
As he was playing yesterday’s set, Gibbard mentioned that he’d been out running earlier that day, and he’d been struck for the first time in a while by how good “Ceremony” is. Almost immediately afterward, he’d gotten a text from a friend requesting a “Ceremony” cover: “A number of exclamation points were sent back and forth.” His take on the song is as soft and sweet and you’d expect.
Gibbard’s 40-minute set last night is almost pretty much entirely requests, and it ends with a tender version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” Watch yesterday’s set below; the “Ceremony” cover starts a little after the 40-minute mark. While you’re at it, listen to the New Order and Joy Division versions of the song, too.
Gibbard says he’s going to keep playing these sets everyday, weekends included. Those gold and platinum records on the wall behind him are such a quiet flex.
UPDATE: For Thursday night’s livestream, Gibbard covered a song by his one-time tourmates the Decemberists. He did “Grace Cathedral Hill,” from their 2002 album Castaways And Cutouts. Watch it around the 38-minute mark below.