4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I must confess that I wasn’t a fan of Death Cab For Cutie until late 2011. I had, for some weird, uninformed reason, mistaken them for a side project of a popular band I didn’t like. I also found the name a bit pretentious – you know, without prior knowledge of where Ben Gibbard actually picked it up, “Death Cab For Cutie” could easily pass for one of the kookiest and most fabricated band names: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s, Bat For Lashes, to name a few.

Anyway, it was after I’d heard and become obsessed with “Codes and Keys” that I learned it was from the same band whose early works I didn’t pay attention to all those years ago. I was unsoundly sidetracked. But that was okay because, at the end of the day, I’d discovered one of America’s best alternative bands.

One of the night’s highlights for me came right at the beginning: the band kicked off with controversial and cutting opening track of Kintsuki, “No Room In Frame”. The song beautifully set the mood for the whole emotion-laden night. And Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr and touring members Dave Dapper and Zac Rae played like they were ready to bring the house down, which they absolutely did.

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People roared at the first bass riffs of “Black Sun”. You know how far you’ve come when your average Death Cab For Cutie crowd – ex-emo softies, now too cool to even headbang – actually roared. The fact that the band never played here before despite three visits to Asia in the past did help.

The set also includes Death Cab essentials like “Soul Meets Body” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan”. 2008 release “No Sunlight”, regardless of its stoicism, managed to get friends and lovers let loose and do the twist before they were hit by a looming tsunami of sorrow. “What Sarah Said” was the words we were willing to listen and cry to.

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Gibbard then walked back from the piano to introduce the song he’d never imagined coming here to play when the band wrote it in a dingy hotel room over a decade ago. We knew exactly what this next solo would be: “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is a morbid love song the lyrics to which we know by heart, especially “You and me have seen everything to see / From Bangkok to Calgary”. Are we happy here on a day-to-day basis? Depends. Do we take pride in our city? Not really. But when Ben Gibbard immortalises it in a song, you sing your bloody heart out.

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As if we hadn’t already been bruised enough on the inside, next came “I Will Possess Your Heart”. Thanks to the signature and uncut intro, we got to spend some time getting ready for another blow.

The band played three songs for the encore, appropriately wrapping up the show with “Transatlanticism”, which is also their personal favourite to play live. If the intro to “I Will…” is a private moment of whimper, the outro of this finale song is louder than a bang. The energy, the inexorability, it was as if the night – and McGerr’s dexterous, exhilarating drum work, oh my god could go on forever.

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Despite getting a shorter set than our neighbour by two songs, the experience was more than I could have asked for. I initially expected the band would carry themselves more collected after touring for almost two decades. I couldn’t be more wrong. When you have a back catalogue like that, you can’t afford not to take a dive into that massive pool of human emotions. What happened was, somehow, Death Cab For Cutie were still these unaffectedly cool band prodigies we wish were our friends in college. No doubt they’ve found richer sound, moved on, evolved, and will keep doing so. But they can also give us the nostalgic soundtrack to our most melancholic moments. It’s a mixture of the past and the present. And at a Death Cab concert there’s always room in frame for two.

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