Death Cab For Cutie
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- Astoria, London »
Ben Gibbard’s soaked in sweat from head to foot, his black shirt stuck tight to his fuller-than-expected frame: clearly the spoils of success to date have made an impression on the man’s waistline; that, or these lights are both powerful and unflattering. He’s saying something about his stomach being twisted into knots, but over the din from those down the front, who echo every “ba ba, ba ba” right back at the Death Cab For Cutie singer, it’s tough to tell exactly what’s being said. Truth be told, though, you can understand it if any between-song stuttering occurs, if a few butterflies are rampantly flapping their frustrating way about his innards – headlining and selling out the Astoria two nights on the trot is an impressive achievement, especially for a band so utterly out of the loops of trend and fashion. They were never made to fit venues like this - they've grown naturally, but the shock's still evident. Plus, they_ look_ more like your uncle, the one that whiles away his afternoons playing dominoes with the oldies down the social club, than bona fide rock stars sealed with an MTV kiss.
Only, are Death Cab really exempt from the tight grasp of fleeting fashions? Tonight’s crowd is a mix of the hardcore – those that soak up every half-uttered ode to lovers lost and won over – and recently converted acolytes no doubt drawn here by the band’s omnipresence on a certain US soap opera; studded belts and silky fringes wander, miserable of face, between rows of long-term aficionados that look about ready to cry their eyeballs dry. Chatter fills the upper balcony, those that can’t bear the heat of ground zero frustrated by the newcomers’ fondness for socialising over saluting what is probably, maybe, the greatest indie-pop band of the moment; certainly, competition is sparse and primarily Canadian. Tonight, Death Cab are faultless; to some that’ll translate as boring, but to a thousand-or-so paying punters, the Astoria this wintry eve is a place of absolute worship.
The set is long, but not overly so, and satisfies all but the entirely old-school – songs from the band’s UK breakthrough The Photo Album sound as crisp now as they did some years ago, proof positive that great composing, however simple it may seem in an era of technological progression, truly does stand the test of time. Come twenty years from now, it’s almost a given that the front eight or nine rows here this evening will still choke up to the likes of ‘We Laugh Indoors’ and the triumphant ‘The New Year’; the latter reverberates about the venue like a depth charge, moving all within earshot to statuesque, mouth-agape appreciation of its super-sized chorus. It’s far from the band’s trump card, too: every song tonight is cheered as enthusiastically as a World Cup-winning football squad on an open-top bus parade. The sole gripe? No airing of their excellent ‘All Is Full Of Love’ cover.
But as the set progresses so the chatter grows: DiS is partially guilty at one point, but at least we decamp temporarily to the bar; others could do with learning a little gig etiquette. The fashioncore hordes, if you want to gift the E4-OC leeches a collective noun, rarely focus on the four men on stage – they’re not bothered when a second drum kit is delivered centre stage for Gibbard to bludgeon, nor are they swept up in the repeated “ba ba, ba ba”s of ‘Soul Meets Body’ and the set-closing ‘The Sound Of Settling’. They’re here to be seen, to be scene, and aren’t fussed if their faces wear funeral masks throughout rather than the fiery-eyed pleasure displayed by more mature corners of the crowd. Still, they’ll move on eventually, and the relative oldies here will have their indie-pop heroes back, sparkling song writing and soulful emoting intact.
Me? I’m just happy to hear ‘A Movie Script Ending’. That, and I’m happy not to be under those lights. Someone, please, pass the man a towel.
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