Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie have taken the old fashioned approach to success. After more than a decade of making emotional, melodic indie rock, the quartet remain a constantly touring and hard working band which continues to build an ever growing and fiercely loyal fanbase worldwide. A few days earlier the band played to tens of thousands of people as support for the mighty Foo Fighters at Milton Keynes Bowl but this somewhat more intimate setting is where they seem most at home. Tonight’s packed house at Rock City is made up of students, rock fans and hugging couples and they all get to witness a band whose experience has made them a polished and engaging live act.
Before all that though we’re treated to an impressively slick support set from a new name to me, The Head and the Heart. Shifting between three main vocalists and consisting of some obviously accomplished musicians, they have the air of an established headline act rather than a somewhat unknown opening act.
Songs from their self-titled album sound like they were written with live shows in mind and their layered sound easily fills the room and wins them a hoard of new fans. By the time they finish their set the feedback from the crowd makes it obvious it won’t be long before they’re playing venues like this in their own right.
Death Cab frontman, Ben Gibbard, has a unique skill. His ability to dance to every song the band play in exactly the same way is impressive and almost hypnotic. Melancholy ballads and electro-tinged rockers are all met with Gibbard’s side to side swinging of the guitar. He looks like a boxer mentally preparing for a fight but it’s a routine that somehow draws you in to the performance and keeps all eyes on the singer.
That’s not to say his bandmates don’t deserve any attention however. During the band’s epic 25-song set, each member more than justifies his place on stage and the band’s sound is as rich and sublimely melodic as it’s ever been. New tunes from this year’s Codes & Keys album blend effortlessly into a set list of crowd favourites and more obscure album tracks. “Stay Young, Go Dancing” already sounds like a new Death Cab classic, and “You Are A Tourist” is an uplifting gem of a tune that has much of the audience joining in with Ben’s dance routine.
As expected it’s still the older tunes which raise the biggest cheers. “What Sarah Said” elicits the biggest singalong of the evening and “The Sound Of Settling” is welcomed like an old friend. The creepy drama of “I Will Possess Your Heart” demonstrates Death Cab’s darker side well, giving bassist Nick Harmer his moment to shine.
A four-song encore brings an unexpected lull in the proceedings, with some of their less impactful songs being showcased before the band return to form on the majestic “Transatlaticism”, a song so good it was played at my wedding! It’s a magnificent closer and one which sends everyone here home more than satisfied.
Review & Photos — Steve Gerrard