The Royal Festival Hall is quite a place. The feel of a theatre, all checked tickets, interval drink-vibes and staggered seating sprawls through its glorious space. There are layers of boxes along the side, looming over the main space with row after row leading to the back. Walking so close to the stage to the seating is daunting, like a step into the life and body of those performing – and in that realm, Death Cab For Cutie playing tonight couldn’t be more special.
Across nearly 20 years now, they’ve managed to jump over any sense of band-with-ambition to carve out their own lane – delivering again after again with mesmerising albums of earnest and brutally raw storytelling that are both beautiful and devastating at the same time. After a shift with the staggering ‘Kitsugi’, where they go next is an understandable question. Their first UK show in around three years is a powerful reminder of their importance and a sizzling taste of a new direction that finds them both looking back and stepping into the future.
As a capacity room sits in awe, tonight is not so much about the typical gig frenzy, but more of an appreciation of the musical brilliance Death Cab have built up after all these years. Stepping on stage under the invitation of The Cure’s Robert Smith, it’s only right they pay respect to a musical icon with the sort of greatest hits set that thousands of bands would only dream of.
Opening the set alone, frontman Ben Gibbard rips down any boundaries with ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ and from there the trajectory of the night is set. Flicking through times and eras, the following crescendo of ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ and ‘The New Year’ are up there with the most effecting opening a band can give, and their introspective realness continues from there.
Choosing to drop only a trio of new songs into the set this grand hall is prime for a showing of what makes Death Cab For Cutie such a pivotal and vital band, redraw with honesty and swooning in their efficiency. The likes of ‘Crooked Teeth’ sit effortlessly alongside cuts from their latest LP such as ‘The Ghosts Of Beverley Drive’, ‘Black Sun’ and ‘Little Wanderer’, never sitting in one place for too long before leaping to another seismic moment.
What Death Cab have done so well for so long is wrap themselves purely in the music. They’ve been all about the honesty, the natural essence of what they are – and tonight feels like one of the truest expressions of that. ‘Cath…’ rips and sizzles with importance, ’No Sunlight’ and ‘Long Division’ are decisively powerful with their airings and ‘What Sarah Said’ perfectly moves into ‘Your Heart Is An Empty Room’, drawing tears from those gathered around. To be able to take such emotion and bottle it, that’s what makes a band into something more pivotal. Even when Ben announces the England World Cup score, nobody is moving anywhere.
Their next chapter is the most shimmering of them all. New cut ‘Gold Rush’ fits nicely amongst the recently shared ‘Summer Years’ and the live debut of ‘I Dreamt We Spoke Again’ – pointing to the future as one packed with a classic Death Cab vibe, and songs that show the best may be yet to come. Tonight though is all about celebrating a band of our time, one who know how to pull at heartstrings and soundtrack the desperate joyous moments with loving ease. When ‘You Are A Tourist’ feeds into an emotionally unstoppable ‘Transatlanticism’ to round out the evening, there’s a sense that nothing more can be done; nothing can compete with how powerful a set like that can be, and nothing can be questioned as to Death Cab’s role in 2018.
Indie stalwarts? Cult favourites? The labels don’t do Death Cab For Cutie justice.