Death Cab for Cutie provides nostalgic comfort in the form of music

 By Shirley Griffith

April 15, 2019

Ovens Auditorium buzzed with anticipation as indie veterans Death Cab for Cutie took the stage Friday night. The band is currently touring in support of their ninth studio album, Thank You for Today and began their electric set with the billowing album opener, “I Dreamt We Spoke.” The album title also seems to serve as a thank you note towards their adoring fans that have grown up with the band and supported the earnest Seattle group for over 20 years. Having been able to make an impressive career out of poignant songs of loss, heartache, and illuminated nostalgia, the band gave back to the crowd with a set list of newer tracks interspersed with their undeniable hits.

Death Cab for Cutie. Photo: Amber Smith

DCfC are a beloved staple of any indie fan and the audience at Ovens shared that common denominator consciousness throughout the night. The band danced around the stage, animated and carefree, reenergized with the camaraderie of their fans that have grown up with and identify so deeply with the group. Frontman Ben Gibbard’s yearning, sweet vocals blanketed the mid-sized venue, creating a cozy drape of sentimentality. Twinkling chords interwove into unabashed solos and it was difficult to tell if it was 2019 or 2000.

Strobe lights danced on the ceiling and guitarist Dave Depper encouraged them, fighting back the shadows with chugging guitar on “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.” By their fourth song, the enraptured audience begins a full venue clap alongside the commanding drumbeat of “Long Division.” Depper switches to an acoustic guitar, complementing Gibbard’s soaring, shimmering solos which inflate the room with the burning angst that comes from being the remainder in an equation– the garbage-destined scraps of a decadent meal. Keeping the energy up, the band launched in “Gold Rush” where a pendulating twang hypnotized the room. The lights burned orange, pulsing behind the band and brought to mind the ancient gold of sunrise and sunset, running like lovers through a field chasing one another in a permanent dance for embrace. Reaching back into their catalogue, “Crooked Teeth” was followed by 2008’s “No Sunlight” before Gibbard assembled himself behind a piano for ultimate soul-stirrer, “What Sarah Said,” off their fan-favorite 2005 album, Plans. This and next track “60 & Punk” felt like a breather from their thus-far high-spirited set as the warm, honeyed keys swelled with the wisdom of great loss. The intimate “60 & Punk” shows the artists reckoning with age and artistry, asking, “were you happier when you were poor?”   

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. Photo: Amber Smith

The band affixes their stature as veterans throughout the two-hour set. After the touching one-two-punch of “What Sarah Said” and “60 & Punk,” the band uses a long and dancey intro to swarm the energy back up for the hit “I Will Possess Your Heart,” veering recklessly between the walls of Ovens. The band churns through “Expo 86” and “Northern Lights” as bursts of light ignite the room. A steady, building crescendo is patiently spun for “Stryofoam Plates” and the release is a roaring cascade of anger directed at deadbeat dads. Finishing off their set were the enthusiastic “Soul Meets Body,” where the crowd bellowed the sweet, hopeful words back towards Gibbard, and “The Sound of Settling” which wrapped up the show with Gibbard holding his guitar above his head and leading a crowd sing-along to the last craving lyrics: “I’ve got a hunger, twisting my stomach into knots.”

Photo: Amber Smith

Displaying yet again the careful expression of a band that knows precisely what they’re doing, Gibbard returned to the stage for a solo acoustic rendition of love song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” which promptly turned the majority of the crowd into beautiful, weeping puddles. The band rejoined Gibbard on-stage for “When We Drive” followed by the seething froth of “Tiny Vessels.” Gibbard laughs, thanks the crowd and boils over into closer “Transatlanticism” which swaddles the crowd in a harmonious, loving sway. DCfC are comfort food. Their specific tone, meandering lush compositions, and Gibbard’s remarkable voice serve as a beacon in times of trouble throughout individual lived experiences. It’s my belief that in these days of hopelessness, the crowd needed to hear and be reminded of their own green innocence and beauty.Life’s hard edges have a way of chiseling us down and it’s hard to stay soft under the pressure. Things don’t pan out the way you imagine they would and Death Cab’s sound reflects compassion for that suspended once upon a time pining– tense from holding on, graceful from never giving up.

Check out the remaining 2019 tour dates for Death Cab for Cutie.

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