I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer – I love Death Cab For Cutie. For me, they’re the soundtrack to an adolescence defined by MSN break-ups, cheap fags and a young man’s first tender flirtations with flannel.
So, when I say that their newest material left me cold it’s not because they’re bad songs. Example: "Gold Rush", the lead single from upcoming LP Thank You for Today, hits all the appropriate targets for a Death Cab song: idiosyncratic production (now with slide guitar!), archly elegiac lyric, swooning backing vocals – check, check, check.
But frankly, it’s not the reason I’m here and a glance at the audience during any of Death Cab’s post-Narrow Stairs material is enough to confirm the truth. The truth is that the reason we are here is to watch Ben Gibbard, now a supernaturally boyish 41, sing the absolute arse off some of the finest, most considered song-writing of the past 20 years.
A hush falls across the Royal Festival Hall as Gibbard takes to the stage alone, opening the show with a gorgeous rendition of "I Will Follow You In To the Dark". A thousand people instinctively begin drafting a wordy text to their teenage crush, before catching themselves in time to headbang the thunderous chords of Transatlanticism opener "The New Year". This opening salvo is rounded off by the crisp autumnal pop of "Crooked Teeth", and now I am grinning like a fat baby, and crying too, like a fat baby.
It’d be easy for Death Cab to walk on stage, obligingly knock out some hits and then move on to the stuff they really care about but, Gibbard and co. are kinetic, jerking and twisting and guitar-dueling like teenagers throughout. Sombre moments (read: I cried again) came sparingly but with real heft in the form of hospital weepie "What Sarah Said" and "Transatlanticism", the original soundtrack to failing long-distance relationships. "Your Heart is an Empty Room" is performed straight-up – Gibbard puts down the guitar, steps up to the mic, and delivers a heart-rending version of the song to a backdrop of solo piano.
This show felt important in a way that they only do if they really mean something to you and, at the Royal Festival Hall, Death Cab For Cutie meant more to us than they’ll ever know. I really hope they keep making music, but more than that, I hope they never stop playing in my head.