Where ever you are in the world – people will always discuss the price of things. Midway through the opening show of a three-night stretch at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Death Cab For Cutie’s lead singer Ben Gibbard questions the price of M&S sandwiches and a ride on the tube. He estimates that it would probably set him back around $500 in total. Never heard of a meal deal Ben?
The question many Death Cab fans have recently pondered is what’s the price of continuing to follow a band who once dominated the stereo of their formative years, but are now the background to the scary world of mortgages, careers and general adulthood agitation. The group themselves have recently seen founding members depart, marriages break down and critical acclaim harder to obtain, what’s the price of Death Cab For Cutie remaining alive in 2015?
Instead of soundtracking teenage fumbles, recent album releases have created more friction as messageboard grumbles – usually followed by the familiar refrain of “they’ll never be as good as they used to be”. They’ve taken the title of everyone’s favourite band, that no one seems to like anymore. When key member and lead guitarist Chris Walla left the group last year, it seemed sensible to suggest that the end was nigh.
Sell out nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire however definitely count as a positive on the band’s cost benefit analysis and after a storming two-hour set, the idea of the three-piece limping over the finishing line seems laughable. The new record’s title, Kintsugi, translates as the Japanese art for mending broken pottery – acknowledging the repairs as an important part of the object’s character, rather than a mistake to be hidden. On tonight’s showing, they’re not just covering up the cracks, but building a terracotta army.
Opening with No Room In Frame, a glistening highlight from the latest record, they immediately embrace a pumped-up sound, with the live five piece creating a widescreen vision to match their ambitions. Despite the song alluding to the break-up of his marriage with actress Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard immediately strikes a confident figure, swinging his hips and dancing on the points of his toes. They play six tracks in total from Kintsugi, allowing themselves to show off Death Cab 2.0 in its full plumage. From the crowd’s reactions, there is plenty of love for these new tracks, especially the fizzing Ghost of Beverly Drive.
At times there’s the sneaking feeling that the group’s songwriting was sometimes more emotive in the past, but what they may have lost in delicate touches they’ve made up for with atmospheric soundscapes. Their impressive back catalogue now means they are spoilt for choice when choosing the setlist, and they combined the layered Kintsugi tracks with the more past hits and fan favourites to great effect. The bridge between Death Cab old and new comes in the shape of eight minute mammoth I Will Possess Your Heart, which has taken on a whole new life during their live shows and blossoms as a brooding ode to the outcast.
They haven’t lost the ability to cut straight to the gut though and backed by a piano, Gibbard delivers a touching rendition of Passenger Seat to open the encore, while earlier I Will Follow You Into The Dark was greeted with a mass singalong. Ending on the beautiful, slowly-building and triumphant Transatlanticism, they are happy to look to the past, but show no signs of staying there. Death Cab For Cutie might not be the same band you fell in love with all those years ago, but riding through any bumps the three piece may have as they enter a new chapter is definitely a price worth paying.