London… again? Yikes! Oh well, here we go again…!
My third trip oop the Smoke in 7 days promised to be an odd juxtaposition; an unknown quantity of a well-established act! Death Cab For Cutie, those cerebral Seattle indie craftsmen, who’d infiltrated my consciousness in 2002, producing my favourite album of said year in the superb “The Photo Album”, and had then continued to crank out a succession of albums of decent enough but diminishing quantity, almost to the point where I was about done with them. However, new album “Kinsugi” received a big up from Tim, so I picked it up and decided to give them another chance “live”, given they were playing at the accessible (and compact!) Shepherd’s Bush Empire, rather than the cavernous likes of Brixton Academy, where their blander recent material had bumped them up to. I liked the new album well enough, finding it more immediate than of late, with a slew of brain-hugging, easy melodies; not a patch on “The Photo Album”, of course, but better than Rach’s view – she thought it sounded like The Pet Shop Boys! A bit harsh, that, although I’ll concede that Ben Gibbard’s clearly enunciated and slightly lilting vocals might slightly resemble Neil Tennant’s, but still…
Anyway, the promise of a good support necessitated an early start, so Tim picked me up just after 5 and we parked up on the Uxbridge Road at 20 past 7, hitting the venue for this, the second of a sold-out 3 might residency, and watching the place fill up before said good support joined us at 8. Scotland’s We Were Promised Jetpacks (for ‘twas they) eased into some powerful, emotive rock, the opening number almost recalling the strident delivery and seething emotion of The Sheila Divine; “Human Error” a powerful, drum-led mood piece, and a subsequent “A Part Of It” another pounding, almost militaristic drum base underpinning a tune of epic power, building to a crashing crescendo which recalled their compatriots Biffy Clyro, no less! Vocalist Adam Thompson was a solid, formidable presence with a strident, soaring voice which held the attention, particularly during widescreen set highlight “Keeping Warm”, a tempo- and mood-changing slow-fast-quiet-noisy number, where his vocals veered from a yearning keen to a scalded howl. Closer “Thunder And Lightning” (prior to which, Thompson really couldn’t say, “thank you,” enough times!) built to a crashing rhythmic ride, then careered to an abrupt end, to cap an impressing opening set. Follow that, Death Cab!
The place was old-school packed as we moved forward to a decent spot a few rows back, stage right, for Death Cab’s entrance at 9 to some odd radio announcement tape. As if picking up the gauntlet thrown down by their impressive support, they were excellent from note one; the sound shimmering and crystal clear, opener “No Room In Frame” chugging along fulsomely, Gibbard’s vocals dancing over the high-pitched melody. A good start, which was well received by the enthusiastic crowd, whom Gibbard welcomed with, “what’s up London! Welcome to night 2 of “Death Cab Does Shepherd’s Bush!””. However, waaaay better was to come 3rd number in; “Why You’d Want To Live Here”, the crown jewel of “The Photo Album”, an assiduous, acerbic critique of Los Angeles, ironically Gibbard’s short-lived marital home with ex Zooey Deschanel, and easily their best number. Mean, moody and magnificent!
They totally had me after that; the subsequent set was perfectly paced, taking in all aspects of their intelligent, eminently melodic and insidiously catchy canon, from a haunting, eerie “Black Sun”, through the underlying hint of menace behind the libidinous groove of “Doors Unlocked And Open”, to a touching and totally lovely “Movie Script Ending” (a pastoral elegy to their home town of Bellingham, WA). Also, whilst possessing more oomph than on CD, the set never rocked out
excessively (as had been a criticism of mine in past DCFC shows), the songs treated with respect and delivered accordingly. Gibbard was also in good fooling, commenting, “in this beautiful venue it feels like you’re all in my lap – in a Santa Claus kind of way,” and later delivering a bizarre, almost stand-up skit about the recently announced Virgin Sex Pistols credit card (“I can whip it out and show everyone I’m as punk as fuck!”).
A beautiful solo “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” was hushed and reverential, and “Soul Meets Body” was lush and melodic, the lyric “a melody softly soaring through my atmosphere” an apt metaphor for tonight. A nice touch as well when, after introducing his 5-piece band, Gibbard introduced himself; “I play guitar and sing in the band Death Cab For Cutie… we are Death Cab For Cutie!”
After a messy encore run-through of “The Sound Of Settling” (which guitarist Dave Deppar right royally fucked up, almost playing a different tune and providing pretty much the only jarring note of the evening), Death Cab climaxed a 2 hour set (wow! Where did that go?) with a sprawling, building “Transatlanticism”, travelling inexorably toward a soaring climax. Great stuff.
Grabbed a list (!) and some merch, then we had a difficult 2 hour journey home with late night roadworks at both Chiswick and Reading forcing us to abandon the M4 a couple of times. Another London red-eye, but another trip well worth it. I didn’t expect “Why You’d Want To Live Here” so that in itself made my night; however the rest of the set held my attention in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I’m really glad I gave Death Cab For Cutie another chance. They’ve got me interested again!