24 Feb 2016

Review: Death Cab For Cutie at St James Theatre

12:59 pm on 24 February 2016

Death Cab For Cutie deliver an unexpectedly fun and fast-paced Auckland show.


Death Cab For Cutie.

Death Cab For Cutie. Photo: Supplied

Are Death Cab for Cutie a nostalgia act? It was this question that puzzled me as I arrived at last night’s concert at the St James Theatre, the band’s first ever Auckland show and a leisurely three days since their performance in Wellington on Saturday.

My own love for Death Cab is inextricably linked with The O.C period of my youth: a time when sad, witty, underdog boys were kings, and the trials and tribulations of troubled romantic love were still a pretty thrilling fantasy. Death Cab provided an ideal soundtrack to my adolescent ennui and just the first few bars of ‘Lack of Colour’ can transport me to a completely different era. Looking around the audience, I was relieved to see that I was not the only 25-year-old there to reminisce.

Despite a fairly recent grab for late-in-the-day mainstream stardom - and a ripe new teenage market with 2009’s Twilight: New Moon tie-in ‘Meet Me On The Equinox’ - the crowd was assembled largely, I would say, of those whose adolescence has since passed. Perhaps owing to this, and the fact that it was a Tuesday night, the crowd were a fairly sensible, well behaved lot, there for one thing, and one thing only.

Comparatively then, lead singer Ben Gibbard was something of a tour de force: buoyant, relaxed and supremely confident, his delight at being in front of an audience was something of a shock after opener Lontalius’ beautiful, understated and almost shy set just prior. Gibbard’s energy, however, was infectious and, with indie rockers so often affecting an air of bashful reluctance, it made for an unexpectedly fun, fast-paced show.

Perhaps riskily opening with recent track, ‘No Room In Frame’ from 2015’s Kintsugi, the set list provided an agreeable spread of old and new, with classics like ‘Summer Skin’, ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ and ‘Soul Meets Body’ interspersed with newer hits such as ‘Black Sun’. Yet with this crowd of devoted veterans it was fairly apparent which ones excited them most.

Which, to be fair, maybe Gibbard et al realise, and it was not until he launched into the now-anthemic ‘The New Year’ about six songs into the set, that the buzz between the band and the audience began to reach fever pitch. From there on out, excited squeals rang out at every recognisable opening bar. The ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ singalong was perhaps the corniest emo circle jerk I’ve ever been part of and yet it was almost heart wrenchingly moving, a rare instance of band-audience symbiosis that reminds you just what is so special about finally seeing your favourite band in the flesh.

This is not to say that the newer material was negligible or unsuccessful. Each song was a striking, soaring triumph and though I had never really considered it before, the star of the show was Gibbard’s amazing, crystal clear vocals, emotional yet controlled, with his signature cadence a near perfect replica of that heard on recordings.

To the delight of the audience, Gibbard was also eager to engage. As is always a relief to anxious antipodeans, he praised New Zealand to the high heavens with only one caveat: chaotic foot traffic. Where other countries might apply road rule style conventions to what side of the footpath they walk on, he claimed, we do not, and as a result he has spent his time here bumping into people (“It’s because there’s too many foreigners,” the charming woman next to us thought aloud). It was cute banter from a cute man and combined with musings on American arrogance towards linguistics and a particularly charming exchange between the band and lovely roadie Jeremy (who earned a round of applause during a muddle up involving guitars and leads), it was as though Gibbard was the charming host of a very large, focussed party.   

With the too-bright strobe lights perhaps the only flop of the evening, it was one of the most consistently vibrant and enjoyable shows I’ve seen in a long time. Leaving the stage a first time with the audience stomping the ground for an encore, there was little doubt that the band would return and when they did it was to finish the set with fan favourites ‘Passenger Seat’, ‘A Movie Script Ending’ and, to finish, a sublime rendition of the slow burning masterpiece ‘Transatlanticism’.

With tracks over 10 years old, some fatigue would be forgivable, but for an audience who have waited this long to see them performed, it was a magical moment to have them done such sweet justice. Nostalgia or not, Gibbard’s own enthusiasm for his material matched the audience's beautifully.

Set List:

No Room in Frame
Crooked Teeth
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
Black Sun
The New Year
Grapevine Fires
Little Wanderer
Company Calls
President of What?
Summer Skin
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
I Will Possess Your Heart
You Are a Tourist
Doors Unlocked and Opened
Soul Meets Body
Bixby Canyon Bridge


Passenger Seat
A Movie Script Ending