Death Cab For Cutie overcome illness to stun a packed Royal Albert Hall

Ben Gibbard and co. threw off colds to unleash an impressive performance for an enthusiastic crowd

We very nearly weren’t here tonight. A cocktail of common British springtime viruses derailed three dates on Death Cab For Cutie’s UK tour, cancelling their shows in Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

So, when Ben Gibbard dedicates a song on tonight’s epic setlist to Boots, he’s only slightly kidding. And when he exuberantly states how happy they are to be at the Royal Albert Hall, it’s 100 per cent sincere. “We may have said this in places where we weren’t that happy to be there, but tonight we really mean it,” Gibbard says, bouncing on the spot.

Gibbard’s a whir of movement all night, like he’s got four nights of energy to dispense in one. The disrupted tour is in support of their 2022 stunner Asphalt Meadows and the setlist is weighted heavily in its favour. They open with the same one-two from the record, ‘I Don’t Know How I Survive’ demonstrating that Gibbard’s voice is back to full capacity, before they blast into the fantastic single ‘Roman Candles’. In all, Death Cab play eight of the album’s 11 tracks tonight, which highlights their well-placed confidence in the record.

For some bands, the new stuff sends the crowds running for the bar, especially bands with as rich a back catalogue as Death Cab For Cutie’s. It’s a testament to the Seattle outfit’s longevity and consistency that what they want to play and what the crowd want to hear are one and the same.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some non-negotiables. There’s a good chance the band would have been barricaded into the Royal Albert Hall had they tried to leave without playing ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ or ‘Transatlanticism’. Those two standards are undoubted highlights; I challenge anyone not to be moved by a sea of torches and a full Royal Albert Hall singing the chorus of the former back at Gibbard. Thousands of people, all suddenly affected by the same mysterious eye condition.

It’s easy to see how the new songs will quickly earn the same status. In particular, ‘Rand McNally’ provides a moment of transcendence on a par with any other. That said, the torches’ reappearance for ‘Transatlanticism’ is tough to beat. It’s one of those classic denouements that you know is coming but still knocks you off your feet every time.

Towards the end, Gibbard references the classical setting, saying, “Thanks for coming to our recital. I think we played well enough to get frozen yoghurt on the way home.” On tonight’s showing, they deserve an extra scoop each.

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Photo credit: Burak Cingi / Getty