Death Cab For Cutie – UOW Unibar 31.07.2015
Death Cab for Cutie is a serious band. By this I mean two things; the first of which is that as a live act they are almost intimidatingly professional, and the other is that these guys have been in the music industry for almost two decades. During this time they have worked with a plethora of other musical acts, performed more shows than you will ever see and established themselves as one of the most important alternative rock bands to emerge from the early noughties. Most of this comes down to star player Ben Gibbard, whose accomplishments as a musician are akin to other legends behind some of the biggest bands in the world, such as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Blur’s Damon Albarn. Their newest album, and first since 2011, Kintsugi, has reaffirmed the bands stardom, seeing them playing a bunch of major festivals, including our very own Splendour in the Grass.
What is interesting, and incredibly amazing for us here at UOW, is that the band chose to stop off in quaint little Wollongong for a one-night stint at the UOW Unibar. To give this context, it may be useful to know that Death Cab went on to play the Sydney Opera house the next day, followed by the Enmore the night after that. Praise be to UOW’s booking agent who landed such a spectacularly iconic band, giving everyone a rockingly amazing Friday night – the gig went down a treat.
Walking to the venue I realised that this gig was definitely going to be busier than others, Unibar was recognisably packed. Death Cab has previously been described as a “gentle rock” band, which was somewhat reflected in the crowd. Present were all sorts; from through and through rockers, to those who were here for the more indie/emo side of Death Cab.
To kick off the night, support musician Say Hi performed an admirable set to those die hard enough Death Cab fans to get in early and camp out a spot at front of stage. As such Say Hi’s music was certainly planted in indie rock roots and I mostly enjoyed his set. Songs like “November Was White, December Was Grey” and “Let’s Talk About Spaceships” had a comparable emotional depth to that of any Death Cab for Cutie’s tracks. By the end of his set the Unibar had really started to fill out and was showing signs that this truly was a sold out gig. On the way out Say Hi gave a little fist bump to somebody in front row for having “Good energy” and said “I’ll be hanging out at the merch desk if anyone wants to say hi” which I thought was rather cool and appreciated the pun.
Very quickly after this, at almost precisely 9pm, Death Cab for Cutie took the stage, the crowd roared with applause and excitement. When Ben Gibbard showed his face, I heard a few shouts of “Beeeen!” ripple through crowd within an instant. Without reaction they dived into their first song for the night, “No Room In Frame” which is my favourite track from their newest album, Kintsugi. From here they jumped back and forth, playing various songs from their 8 album strong discography. “Black Sun” which is their most recent hit was played very early on and went down a treat, as half the audience knew the lyrics. It’s opening line “There is whiskey in the water/And there is death upon the vine” which is immediately recognizable.
A real highlight of the night was the classic crowd favourite “I Will Possess Your Heart”, which was performed with its full 5 minute long instrumental intro, just as it is on the album. The reason why this song works so well in a live setting, is because once it actually gets into the lyrical content it’s such an incredibly emotional song , which begs for people to sing along.
“You Are a Tourist” is Death Cab for Cutie’s highest charting song, which reached number 1 on Billboards Alternative 100 in 2011. Needless to say it was a crowd pleaser that was saved for the back half of their set. Around this time, Ben Gibbard seem to go a little wild and throw his guitar about, knocking over his mic stand without a care. It was an odd little moment that seemed to confuse the audience a bit, but I think it was mostly just part of the act, that was meant to show a little spontaneity and rage.
The last song performed, before the obligatory encore stretch of songs, was “The Sound of Settling” which is mostly a feel good song from their classic album, Transatlanticism. The song itself is rather up tempo with its repetition of “bopba” in it’s chorus, this was an incredible way to leave everyone begging for an encore.
Quickly after they left the stage chants arose for an encore that was quickly obliged by Ben playing “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” solo on stage with a spotlight. I was surprised that everyone knew the words to this song, even managing to drown out Ben’s vocals to a degree. It provided somewhat of an emotional peak for the night; I overheard people next to me saying “I think I’m going to cry”.
The encore continued with “Marching Bands of Manhattan”, which saw the whole band coming back to perform one last song before the crescendo that was “Transatlanticism”. This song was the first Death Cab for Cutie track I ever heard, and it forms the crux of a very emotional scene from Alan Ball’s sadcore series “Six Feet Under”. In the scene one of the main characters, while high on drugs, starts a sing along with her friends, starting with the classic line “I need you so much closer”. In many ways the experience of seeing this live mimicked that scene, as everyone, together, with an ocean of emotion slowly sung that lyric over and over in unison. It was a rather spectacular scene that wrapped up the night’s proceedings and almost certainly left everyone feeling emotionally drained.
Death Cab for Cutie are an amazingly tight live band. Their songs performed live sound almost identical to that on the album, admittedly with a little boost of sound and intensity. While they are heavily associated with indie and emo music scene they can confidently hold a stage and the audience’s attention. Ben Gibbard is an almost impossibly talented musician that very deftly tells complex stories with his songs. Death Cab for Cutie have been in the music industry for so long, but this has not blunted their impact at all. Instead it has allowed them to hone their craft and become amazingly professional artists who can confidently play any venue and crowd, whether that be Splendour in the Grass, the Sydney Opera house or the UOW Unibar.