The last time Ben Gibbard brought Death Cab For Cutie to Manchester was in 2015. This was on the back of the release of the outfit’s impressive eighth studio album Kintsugi and the venue was the larger Academy One. This time, the smaller but more satisfying Albert Hall is the venue and it’s fit to bursting by the time The Beths bring their short but sweet support slot to a close.
It’s probably fair to describe the output of this Washington state band as mercurial. Kintsugi was a splendid record but its name refers to repairing something with gold or silver and the album definitely remodelled the band’s modus operandi with a more familiar Death Cab sound, after the less successful Codes And Keys period. The current tour’s focus is the summer release of the elegantly melodic and melancholy Thank You For Today, but what becomes apparent this evening as the band rattle through a vast twenty-four song set list, is that they’ve accumulated enough quality material over their two decade-long career to easily satisfy the demands of a two hour performance, regardless of any debate regarding the band’s anthology.
The opening two tracks of the new record open proceedings; I Dreamt We Spoke Again and Summer Years are presented in near-darkness but there is real warmth in the crowd’s response. Gibbard demonstrates a youthful, nervous energy which is maintained throughout, and his signature move, whipping his guitar cable as he hustles around the stage, enhances the jittery nature of the latter track in particular and this trait continues in emphatic style with The Ghosts Of Beverley Drive.
It was the 2003 album Transatlanticism which lifted the band from college rock obscurity and the brilliantly restrained Title And Registration provides the first subtle singalong from a hugely respectful and partisan crowd, but when Ben finally engages with the crowd he reminds us that the focus of the tour is the new record as the brilliantly clamourous Gold Rush follows. Built around lilting harmonies and the repetition of the song’s title instead of the usual flowing, guitar-led melodies provides an interesting musical shift.
If you ask any DC4C fan which album defines their oeuvre, then more often than not Plans will be the reply, and there is an excitable whoop when Crooked Teeth is followed by the majestically forlorn but ultimately beautiful What Sarah Said. Disappearing behind the keys, Gibbard still retains the nervous energy of before as the emotion of the song overcomes him. What becomes clear as the evening progresses however, is how good Thank You For Today is. 60 And Punk and Northern Lights are mellifluous highlights of a second half of a set list that ebbs and flows towards its conclusion; they are songs that challenge the authority Plans holds, but it isn’t until Plans’ Soul Meets Body arrives that the enterprise of the band appears to metamorphose into real passion and this is equally mirrored by a gratified Manchester crowd; if What Sarah Said is this album’s raison d’être then Soul Meets Body is it’s heartbeat and so it proves tonight. The twinkling acoustic tones shine and Gibbard’s vocals are matched by the vociferous crowd and their contribution continues with the visual, vividly brilliant Marching Bands Of Manhattan. Ben and his band must have performed these tracks a thousand times but the joy they bring to the band is tangible and he apologises for his impulsive back-to-back with bassist Nick Harmer, describing the act as reminiscent of a Bon Jovi moment back in 1985!
After these brilliant songs, the encore turns out to be a tad underwhelming; Ben sarcastically demands that the crowd stop clapping along to a solo rendition of the fragile ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark, claiming “I’m the professional… I keep better time than you do”, and when the band return for the rest of the encore, what we get is a bit too grandiose until epic closer Transatlanticism reminds us all how good this band are at delivering emotional melancholy in a package that sounds so, so sweet.
Words & Photography by Iain Fox