Death Cab for Cutie, Brixton Academy, London

4.00

All hail this thrashing joy ride

To say Ben Gibbard is being worshipped at Brixton Academy tonight would be something of an understatement.

The Death Cab for Cutie frontman, alternating between keyboard and guitar on a gorgeously backlit stage, is on magnetic form, whether bearing his soul with an acoustic guitar or whirling around the stage during one of the band's many high-decibel climaxes. The old theatre is teeming with DCFC fans, each one singing proudly along to every lyric, clapping their hands to each thudding beat.

Death Cab (as they are affectionately abbreviated by committed fans) are entering their 15th year, and the Washington state four-piece's appeal shows little sign of waning. One of a select few acts who can rely on a loyal and vocal fanbase wherever and whenever they play, Gibbard's group still perform with the joyous abandon of a garage band trying to impress as they sweep through a hefty setlist encompassing five albums.

From the growling, pugnacious intro of opener "I Will Possess Your Heart" to the final throes of epic closer "Transatlanticism", Death Cab seldom falter. Built on the rock-solid platform provided by drummer Jason McGerr and bassist Nick Harmer, each of the band's best tracks – "The Sound of Settling", "Marching Bands of Manhattan", "Doors Unlocked and Open" – are overflowing with energy, punch and drive. Gibbard's tremulous, distinctive vocals are given room to soar, arcing over Chris Walla's deft guitar lines, and while often unfairly pigeon-holed as "emo", his lyrics shine through, especially on oft-covered acoustic ballad "I Will Follow You into the Dark".

Some Death Cab shows in the past have suffered from static crowds or underwhelming song selection, but tonight neither of these is a concern. The setlist, combining new material from Codes and Keys with fan favourites, is perfectly balanced and satisfies everyone from casual fans to die-hards. Gibbard's patter, while affable, is sparse; the Washingtonians elect to put their music first, fostering an impressive momentum which carries the show through the few ebbs in enthusiasm.

During the four-song encore, Gibbard steps to the mic to pay homage to the British bands who inspired Death Cab's creation – the group lay down a terrific cover of Ride's "Twisterella" by way of tribute – before launching into the monumental eight-minute final song. It's an endearing touch in a show filled with highlights, and what's clear as "Transatlanticism" rises to its rapturous close is that Death Cab are now a group worthy of tributes of their own.

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