It must be hard for a band like Death Cab For Cutie.
The fanbase by now must be so incredibly diverse that it would be almost impossible to satisfy everyone within the crowd with their song choice. In one corner, you’ve got the OC crowd – the team who fell in love with the soft, dreamy, acoustic DCFC. Then you’ve got the oldheads – the ones who’ve been there and still hope to hear that deep cut off an album 20 years ago. Sitting right beside them would be the new generation – the ones who probably remember them from the radio X years ago but have finally jumped on board with the new album and are yet to dive into the back catalogue. Then finally, you’ve got the ones who are just there because their partner is.
When DCFC finally return to Australia after a 4 year hiatus, new album in tow, they take to the Concert Hall at the magnificent Sydney Opera House for a two-night run. Both shows are agonisingly close to selling out, and I attend on the second night where there’s barely an empty seat in sight. No support band is listed on the run sheet for tonight, and so, as expected, at 8pm the five gentleman strut to the stage to begin their showcase.
Opening with personal favourite ‘A Lack Of Color’ (which is a pleasant and unexpected intro), the band launch into a slew of upbeat, energetic tracks which catches me by surprise. New album tracks ‘I Dreamt We Spoke Again’, ‘Summer Years’ and ‘Gold Rush’ are included in a 6-7 song onslaught where it feels like the band haven’t stopped playing. Frontman Ben Gibbard is everywhere – soulfully singing to the mic, playfully jamming with fellow guitarist Dave Depper, or consistently threatening an incidental clash with unaware bassist Nick Harmer. He seems really focussed and enthusiastic which makes even tracks I don’t personally love seem to form their own charisma. There’s some missed beats and occasionally fluffs in this first array of tracks and it makes me wonder whether this was a concerted effort by the band to lift their spirits after what must be an extremely draining touring schedule.
This is highlighted by the fact that ‘‘No Sunlight’ is completely butchered by a very obvious mix-up by the band. The song was completed in a professional manner but the awkward looks on the band’s faces (and probably the fact we missed a verse and chorus, too) were the telling tale. As a musician, it made me laugh – because it’s so easy to do. I applaud the band for carrying on and leaving it behind – it would have been so easy for them to feel down or disheartened. Good stuff.
The set focuses on the new release (as expected), but we are treated to some admittedly obscure album cuts, such as ‘Doors Unlocked and Opened’ from the fairly bland ‘Codes and Keys’ record. However, some of the more delightful choices like ‘Expo ’86’, ‘Bixby Canyon Bridge’ and ‘Title And Registration’ were great to hear and no doubt pleased at least one of the aforementioned corners of fans. As I touched on earlier, choosing the setlist to appease all must be a tough gig for the band, and no doubt there were plenty who left a little bummed that their favourite track wasn’t played, in place of some which definitely could have been left behind (‘Autumn Love’, ‘Ghosts of Beverly Drive’ etc).
Each member are equally brilliant in their respective instruments. It really feels like since DCFC moved from a 4 piece to a 5 piece that they’ve been able to create a fully immersive live experience. Chris Walla was no doubt fantastic, and it’s a shame he’s not in the band anymore – but replacing him with 2 musicians was a great move and it’ll be exciting to hear how they can continue to build on their current sound and direction with this new group.
The only real gripe of the night was the mix/sound at the venue. From where I was sitting the guitars were soft, the vocals panned too far left/right, and barely a squeak could be heard from the pianos. A shame, as the Concert Hall is a world class venue, and this really should have been handled better.
In the end, what we were left with was an enjoyable, professional gig from a band who’ve been around the block once or twice. I’ve been a fan of this band for a long time and they’re always going to be one on the ‘will-see’ list when the tour announcement arrives.
Death Cab For Cutie, Concert Hall, Tuesday 19th March 2019
- A Lack Of Color
- I Dreamt We Spoke Again
- Summer Years
- The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
- Long Division
- Title and Registration
- Gold Rush
- Crooked Teeth
- No Sunlight
- What Sarah Said
- 60 & Punk
- I Will Possess Your Heart
- You Moved Away
- Black Sun
- Expo ’86
- Autumn Love
- Doors Unlocked and Open
- Soul Meets Body
- Bixby Canyon Bridge
- I Will Follow You Into The Dark
- Northern Lights
- The New Year