In 2018 Pacific Northwesterners Death Cab For Cutie celebrate the 10th anniversary of #1 record Narrow Stairs, the group’s follow-up to seminal major-label debut album Plans but they also release ninth studio album Thank You For Today, dropping 17th August. The Ben Gibbard-led five-piece have been on quite a journey since forming in 1997, but notably in those past 10 years have had to live up to the success of Plans while growing as a band and suffering the departure of founding member and guitarist Chris Walla in 2014 following the recording of eighth record Kintsugi.
But with the addition of Dave Depper and Zac Rae across guitars and keyboards the group is back to full strength, and following a show at London’s Royal Festival Hall as part of this year’s Robert Smith-curated Meltdown Festival, Gibbard’s men move northwards across the river to favourite club venue Scala in Kings Cross for a tiny, sweaty show to whet our appetites for great things on the horizon.
Appearing on the small North London stage shrouded in a darkness that didn’t lift for the 90+ minutes the Seattle-based outfit ran through their set, the music kicked off with a delicate rendition of Kintsugi single Black Sun, paired back to Gibbard’s distinctive voice layered over Rae’s piano, haunting. The remaining band members then appeared as Gibbard introduced new song I Dreamt We Spoke Again, a gentle rhythm from Jason McGerr underpinning the subdued number and enticing the crowd to sway before The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive, again from Kintsugi, had them singing along.
The familiar extended musical intro to Codes And Keys cut Doors Unlocked And Open served both to allow Gibbard to move about the stage unchained from his microphone as well as to wind the audience up before the opening lyrics were sung. “I hope you guys in the front row don’t plan on framing me for a crime anytime soon because you are going to have my DNA on you” the 41-year-old frontman jested of how close he stood to the crowd. The Country-tinged Gold Rush gave us another taste of Thank You For Today, the recently released single about the ‘Amazonification’ of cities a fitting reflection of the global culture zeitgeist – closing down high streets paired with the creation of tech hubs in places like London and Seattle.
Upbeat 2006 Plans hit single Crooked Teeth had the crowd screaming with satisfaction before bouncy sophomore album cut Company Calls had them swaying along with another fan favourite. Following early song President Of What? and seventh record title track Codes And Keys, for which Gibbard took position behind a keyboard bathed in ominous red light, the band departed the stage, leaving the frontman alone to ramble about the limited periods of extraordinary heat and lack of air conditioning in cities like London and Seattle, enticing chuckles from the sweat-soaked crowd before a solo acoustic rendition of sombre Plans ballad I Will Follow You Into The Dark.
I Will Possess Your Heart gave us another extended musical introduction, the Death Cab boys bouncing within the confines of the Scala stage before Summer Years exposed us to more of what is to come with album nine, it’s fast beats paired with delicate guitars and sombre tone a uniquely Death Cab juxtaposition. Hit 2011 single You Are A Tourist livened things up once more as the sweat continued to pour not just from frontman Gibbard and his band, but literally everyone in the venue.
Narrow Stairs cut Cath… and Plans single Soul Meets Body were particular highlights before the main set was rounded out with Transatlanticism tune The Sound Of Settling. Following a brief departure from the stage the group returned to cheers for three encore songs.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia associated with bands with legacies such as Death Cab For Cutie, but a spotlight should be shone upon the new material aired tonight. While the themes may be sombre, they underline the relevance of the group and their ninth studio album. My only gripe would be the lack of light this group perform with, not just as a photographer but as a fan trying to glean expressions of the band as they work through their set.
Thank You For Today is released on 17th August on Atlantic Records and Death Cab For Cutie return to the UK for a full tour in early 2019, kicking off at Manchester’s Albert Hall on 25th January and closing out their run at the Hammersmith Apollo on 1st February before moving on to more European dates.
The Scala show was live streamed and you can catch the replay below while it’s going:
Live review of Death Cab For Cutie @ Scala by Kalpesh Patel on 19th June 2018.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate