Monday, 15 April 2019

Death Cab For Cutie

26th January 2019

O2 Academy, Glasgow

It still strikes me as a bit odd that Washington band Death Cab For Cutie's best-known song (at least on this side of the pond) is so remarkably dissimilar to pretty much all of the rest of their output.  For whilst much of their stuff mines an, admittedly at times slightly unconventional, Indie/Alt/Post Rock seam, I Will Follow You Into the Dark is a sparse, brittle piece, with vocalist Ben Gibbard accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.  And I am still not quite sure whether it is a suicide note or not.  

Stateside, the band are probably best known for their 2008 US hit I Will Possess Your Heart; this song boasting an equally unsettling lyric, but this time pinned down by a memorable hypnotic bass riff by Nick Harmer.

Both Dark and Heart were performed this evening, and were each, along with the main set closer The Sound of Settling, highlights of a very enjoyable show.  But much of the evening was devoted to the band's new album Thank You For Today, from which a total of seven songs were performed.

A sense of loss and wistful nostalgia pervades this collection I feel, perhaps consequent to band leader and main songwriter Gibbard recently hitting the Big 4-0.  This being one of those points in life where, I would suggest, most of us indulge a bit of (occasionally wistful?) backward glancing.

And whilst things start out rather well on the album, in my opinion, the opening five or so tracks set a level of quality the collection struggles to maintain.

The opening two tunes both see Gibbard harking back to an old girlfriend – or possibly girlfriends.  And whilst I Dreamt We Spoke is a dreamy 1980s influenced piece and a strong opener to the album; Summer Years undoubtedly represents the album's high-water mark.  Imagine if you can Johnny Marr picking out a selection of his trademark arpeggios backed by the Low Life era New Order rhythm section, over which Neil Tennant languidly intones a tale of lost first love, and you are sort of most of the way there.

And I wonder where you are tonight
If the one you're with was a compromise
As we're walking lines in parallel
That will never meet and it's just as well.

It really is a fine, fine tune, and nothing else on the album even comes close.

Gold Rush interestingly samples the backing track from from a Yoko Ono song from 1972 which, rather surprisingly, does not sound remotely out of place at all in 2019.  Whilst the pleasing When We Drive houses another intriguing lyric: 

I can't expect you to be honest
Or to be faithful every day
'til the end
I just need you to always be a friend 

Thereafter things dribble downhill more than somewhat, I feel. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of the remaining tunes, but they really have nothing to say either musically or lyrically which had not already been said earlier in the collection.

And whilst the Go-Betweens' sounding Near/Far is enjoyable enough, the overall impression I was left with from listening to the album was it was a product of a band treading water just a touch.  The muse still dropping to say Hi from time to time, but only fleetingly.

Ben Gibbard

Death Cab For Cutie - Glasgow - January 2019

Set list
I Dreamt We Spoke Again
Summer Years
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
Long Division
Title and Registration
Gold Rush
Crooked Teeth
Photo booth
No Sunlight
What Sarah Said
60 & Punk
I Will Possess Your Heart
You Moved Away
A Movie Script Ending
Black Sun
Expo '86
Northern Lights
Soul Meets Body
The Sound of Settling

I Will Follow You Into the Dark
When We Drive
We Looked Like Giants

Support act The Beths

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