Death Cab for Cutie took a trip down memory lane at Hamer Hall

In the depths of the Melbourne Arts Centre, Death Cab for Cutie prepared for their first of two shows, the beginning of their Australian and New Zealand run for 2019.

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bandAnna Photography

It was a show that would introduce fans to their latest album Thank You For Today, as well as take the audience through what’s now become a beloved and expansive catalogue of music, with a lot of emotion attached.

Supporting on Wednesday night was Brisbane’s Hatchie, who has garnered so much support for her music over the last few years, I caught myself wondering why it had taken me so long to get to one of her shows. As a massive fan of Babaganouj, I was excited to see what Hatchie’s live show was about; the band members are all consummate and talented musicians and in this outfit, they work brilliantly together. The dynamic between the members was strong and as Hatchie’s vocals soared out within Hamer Hall, the glorious '90s vibes of The Cranberries and Placebo were strong.

Picking up their instruments just after 8.30pm, Death Cab for Cutie kicked straight into their new material, opening the show with Thank You For Today’s ‘I Dreamt We Spoke Again’. With three years having elapsed since Kintsugi, the band remained in their sonic ballpark with Thank You For Today, yet Ben Gibbard’s songwriting is grounded very much in the headspace of a musician writing for the now, instead of looking back.

Even though it’s not a stretch to assume a lot of us in Hamer Hall were there for the Death Cab classic cuts from Transatlanticism through Plans and Codes and Keys, there’s no denying that this band know what they’re good at, and when they followed up with ‘Summer Years’ and ‘Northern Lights’ this shone through, highlighting the strengths of Death Cab’s 2018 to present chapter.

Over the two hour duration of the night’s show, Gibbard joked with the crowd over the formal nature of the setting (‘This is more like a Death Cab For Cutie recital...where I hope my mom takes me out for ice cream afterwards...’), and made sure to check in periodically to ensure the crowd was still on the same wave. He needn’t have bothered, by the midway point - somewhere around ‘Title and Registration’ and ‘Crooked Teeth’, the audience was hooked.

A major drawcard of Death Cab For Cutie’s output was that sense of emotional drama that would become very much synonymous with indie rock music in the early 2000s. The songs were weighted in heartache and yearning, while Gibbard’s distinctive accent and enunciation made Death Cab’s music some that pulled particularly hard on the heartstrings. Listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s pulsing, evocative music in one’s early years of adolescence made it one helluva soundtrack for puberty and those teenage firsts, and listening to it as one’s thirties beckon throws a whole new light on perspective. I wondered what Gibbard feels now, as a 40-something year old, singing songs like ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ and ‘Cath…’ – whether it’s purely performative now, or there’s something that still gets under his skin. As a frontman, he’s not lost any of the bond with the music – at least on a surface level – as his body jerked with each soaring guitar riff and each lyric propelled his voice that much further.

Finishing the main set with ‘Soul Meets Body’ to a standing ovation, Death Cab retreated from the stage shortly before returning for a five-song encore that ensured the audience was leaving with a punch to the feels only The O.C. could provide circa the mid-2000s. A pin could be heard dropping during Gibbard’s rendition of ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’, while the band returned to whip through charged performances of ‘When We Drive’ and ‘Tiny Vessels’.

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The opening notes of ‘Transatlanticism’ though, that opening lyric, The Atlantic was born today, and I’ll tell you how…’, transported the venue back to 2003. As the music built and built, crashing over Gibbard’s sad repeats of I need you so much closer, so did the audience’s emotion. An intense sing along to match an intense song - an odd level of catharsis that proved the perfect way to end a reunion for many, and no doubt an introduction to some too.

Highlight: Show closer ‘Transatlanticism’ ticked off every single box a 2000’s teen could want.

Lowlight: The absence of Chris Walla is definitely still felt. For old school Death Cab fans, the energy he brought to the live shows is missed.

Crowd Favourite: ‘Cath…’ and ‘Transatlanticism’.