In an age of bands that go from next-big-thing, to number one, to yesterday's news in a matter of months, Death Cab for Cutie make for a pleasing change. Steadily building a devoted fan base more than 10 years, it is only now, with the Seattle quartet's sixth studio album, that they are beginning to enjoy the reputation of indie-rock royalty.
That's not to say it's been easy. It has taken years of hard touring, graduation to a major record label and a recurring cameo on The O.C. to get them here.
Death Cab have bypassed being hip to exist somewhere off the radar, bypassing trends and gimmicks, building up respect and interest through word of mouth. What sets them apart and attracts listeners is their dark, intelligent, heartfelt introspective musings set to misty-eyed symphonies and often euphoric riffs.
A quick look around Brixton Academy confirmed this to be a band with a universal agenda. Everyone was there: the young, the older; male, female; the ultra chic, the downright daggy. When it comes to unrequited love and anxiety about growing older, no one is immune.
Fans were treated to a blistering 20-track set that took in all six albums. The band weaved between the aching melodies of "Grapevine Fires", the heavy drums of "Bixby Canyon Bridge", the evocative acoustics of "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" and the aggressive guitar-led "Crooked Teeth". "I Will Possess Your Heart", "Soul Meets Body" and "The Sound of Settling" all instigated furious sing-alongs.
If there's a complaint, perhaps it's that many of their songs are not particularly distinctive and intertwining a decade's worth of tracks showed that their sound has never really evolved. But then, when the standard of song-writing is this high, it seems foolish to accuse the band of not developing.
Rarely has a band been so appreciative and eager to please (even down to the four-track encore they give the thrilled audience). There is no room for ego in Death Cab, even their line-up suggested this. All four members were spread out across the stage in perfect view, with frontman Ben Gibbard curiously placed at the far left. In between just about every song, Gibbard found a new way to earnestly thank the crowd for coming – and everything was "an honour" and "a privilege". Don't get them wrong, lurking under their geeky, pleasant demeanour lies some serious existential anxiety, but as an exercise in humility and rewarded long toil, other bands could well take note.