Death Cab For Cutie finally made it to Auckland for the first time, having previously graced New Zealand with a visit to Wellington back in 2012. Their current tour has brought them to the majestic St. James Theatre, after a gig at Wellington's Opera House earlier in the week. The crowd warmed up to the precocious talent of Lontalius, aka Eddie Johnston, who also makes dance music under the moniker Race Banyon. As Lontalius, his tunes are ethereal and dreamy, languid vocals set to pared down music. His set was a suitable segue into the leading act's two hour performance.
Death Cab For Cutie came out on stage at exactly 9:30pm, their punctuality foreshadowing the level of professionalism with which they would carry out the show. The setlist represented the band's most recent album Kintsugi along with old favourites, gracefully alternating between melancholy melodies and more upbeat tracks, keeping the energy running at a good frequency throughout the show. The quality of the performance cannot be faulted and is testament to the years the musicians have spent playing together and perfecting their craft.
I must confess that, while I have listened to their music here and there over the years, I am not by any means a Death Cab For Cutie diehard fan. Though there were plenty plenty of people in audience who clearly were. The fans spanned a wide age range, some must have been devotees since the band's formation in 1997, while younger groups, who may have discovered their love deep into Death Cab For Cutie's almost 20-year-long career, grooved along with just as much enthusiasm and devotion.
The opener ‘No Room in Frame‘ was a lukewarm beginning and Ben Gibbard's voice was a little lost in the first few tracks. However, after a few songs, a good balance was reached between vocals and the rest of the band. ‘New Year’, an atmospheric anthem from the iconic album Transatlanticism brought energy levels up, lights flashing, the crowd bobbing along.
Ben Gibbard's acoustic guitar solo of melancholy, bittersweet love song ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ galvanised the audience in a gentle sing along, couples swaying with arms wrapped around one another. ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ followed on, offering quite a contrast with its slow, rhythmic, instrumental build up and bassist Nick Harmer setting the obsessive tone of the song with a dark, driving, bassline. The live performance of the song gave it a sinister richness that is lacking in the recorded version. ‘Doors Unlocked and Open’ was another highlight, the band rocking out in full, with a satisfying playoff between Gibbard and touring guitarist Dave Depper.
The encore saved some of the most special moments for last, with an elegant, beautiful performance of ‘Passenger Seat’ with only Gibbard's vocals and Zac Rae on keyboard. You could feel the anticipation of the fans waiting for the big one, the track that emblazons Death Cab For Cutie in the hearts of many — ‘Transatlanticism.’ The sweeping ballad encapsulates the earnest sweetness and sorrow that characterisers this band. The show finished on an emotional high, lovers and loners dispersing into the night to harbour the memories brought back to light by the iconic song.