Mid-2000s indie rock grew from Seattle, Washington, and none grew as big as Death Cab For Cutie. With a career spanning twenty years and nine studio albums, Death Cab have consistently reinvented themselves with each album, and are currently touring in support of their latest one, Thank You For Today.
No strangers to the Sydney Opera House, having played there at their 2015 Splendour In The Grass sideshows, Death Cab For Cutie are the latest in a string of contemporary musicians to grace the hallowed stage of the concert hall.
Opening on "A Lack Of Colour" – a surprise to all as every other Australian show on this run had opened with "I Dreamt We Spoke Again" – the concert hall was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and the first few rows could hear the low twang of Ben Gibbard’s fingers sliding along the strings of his acoustic guitar.
Flowing straight into "I Dreamt We Spoke Again", "Summer Years" and "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive", Gibbard’s guitar began to falter in the latter, cutting in and out to the point where he threw it on the ground, choosing instead to take the mic, drop to one knee and serenade a woman standing in the front row.
Gibbard’s interactions with the crowd were short and sweet, inviting us to stand up and dance with them if we felt like it – an invitation which only some members of the crowd accepted, and even then, did so with exceptions. The crowd was sitting quiet and respectful throughout the newer songs, "Gold Rush", "You Moved Away" and "60 & Punk", but it was the older songs that really got them engaged and dancing.
The night played out like a 'greatest hits' compilation, with the setlist borrowing heavily from Narrow Stairs and Transatlanticism, even throwing in a track off the not-so-critically-acclaimed Codes And Keys. The aforementioned "60 & Punk" saw Gibbard standing alone at the front of the stage, arms in the air, silhouetted by a cylinder of gold and blue light, as the crowd murmured the lyrics along with him, as if they were too scared to sing along too loudly in this venue.
But any trepidation was gone by the time Gibbard mutters, “You might know this one” before launching into "Soul Meets Body". There was nothing in the world that could hold back the voices of the 5,000 strong crowd from singing along with this one.
Leaving the stage after "Bixby Canyon Bridge", Gibbard re-emerged alone to play "I Will Follow You Into The Dark". Again, the room became completely silent, and if you closed your eyes it was easy to forget that you were sitting in a room with 5,000 other people, as Gibbard sang the lines, “If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I'll follow you into the dark.”
The rest of the band returned to the stage for three more songs – "Northern Lights", "The New Year" and "Transatlanticism". Jason McGerr’s style of drumming was unique – holding the left drumstick almost like a pen – and his drumming shined through in "The New Year" and "Transatlanticism". With each cry of “I need you so much closer”, his hands slammed down on his set harder, threatening to snap a stick or even burst through the skins; he played completely entranced, hitting harder and harder as the song reached its peak.
As the band smiled, bowed, and wandered off stage, it became clear that we had just witnessed a stunning performance from a band that has managed to captivate hearts and souls worldwide over the past two decades.