REVIEW: Death Cab For Cutie at O2 Academy Bristol

PUBLISHED: 19:00 01 February 2019

Death Cab For Cutie. Picture: We Are The Rhoads

Death Cab For Cutie. Picture: We Are The Rhoads

We Are The Rhoads Chris Rhoads Sarah Rhoads

With a kaleidoscopic career spanning three decades and dozens of genres, it was almost impossible to know what to expect from Death Cab For Cutie’s sold-out show at Bristol’s O2 Academy on Wednesday night.

Forming in Northern California in the late 1990s, Death Cab For Cutie have gone through various iterations on-route to their current incarnation as masterful purveyors of auto-tuned indie rock.

On their debut album, 1997’s You Can Play These Songs With Chords, the band presented themselves as disaffected standard bearers for the US college rock scene.

By the early noughties, Death Cab For Cutie had pivoted to the far more ernest, emotionally-raw style of songwriting evident on their seminal 2003 release Transatlanticism.

With lead singer Ben Gibbard’s solo forays into electronica, and last year’s wildly overproduced Thank You For Today, ambiguity seemed to become the band’s calling card.

My worst fear for Wednesday’s show was a full run-through their most recent album accompanied by a few tokenistic hits to satisfy casual listeners.

I need not have worried.

Death Cab For Cutie delivered an electrically-charged set, which made deep cuts into their diverse discography and proved just how accomplished the five-piece have become, both as musicians and showmen.

Gibbard is transformative - one moment he is the punk-pop boy wonder; all sharp elbows and twanging guitar on the powerfully-anthemic Sound Of Settling.

The next he is Frank Sinatra; hovering above the crowd, crooning wistfully about ‘federales and falling curtains’, before launching into What Sarah Said - an expansive ballad which fills the O2 with a deep, lush wall of sound.

An encore performance of I Will Follow You Into The Dark is no less perfect for its predictability. Even some of Thank You For Today’s more forgettable numbers are lifted by Gibbard’s magnetic stage presence.

The departure of long-time band member Chris Walla may have raised alarm bells for some ahead of this year’s tour.

For me, the sound of Transatlanticism’s escalating refrain ‘I need you so much closer’, sung by a thousand lilting voices, was proof enough that Death Cab For Cutie’s relevance has not yet ebbed away.

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