Ever since Death Cab for Cutie appeared on The OC, they started to see the adulation and mainstream success they receive at home filter across the Atlantic. Tonight's iTunes gig is a warm-up for their sold-out show in Brixton Academy and emo and indie fans are queuing round the venue.
Plans, their first release on Atlantic Records, went platinum in February, and their latest April release Narrow Stairs re-invents them with a darker edge to the introspective, sometimes saccharine indie pop of their earlier five albums.
Frontman Ben Gibbard and the band deftly move from one song to the next often without a pause, recreating the expansive sound of their recordings. Early on comes "Crooked Teeth", a big-hearted melody, while "Summer Skin" blends dreamy chiming guitars with the beat of a marching band. It's these big melodies that work best on tonight's crowd, as does the sun-kissed, light-hearted pop of "No Sunlight". One of their best melodies, "Soul Meets Body", gets the singalong it calls out for, its repeated refrain "a melody softly soaring through my atmosphere" summing up the effect it has on its listener.
Death Cab may not be strangers to the eight-minute song, but new single "I Will Possess Your Heart" is ambitious even by their standards, its instrumentation is part Wilco and measured vocals part Interpol. Four minutes of heavy bass, drum beat and the building layers of guitars, darker and moodier-sounding than on record, pass before Gibbard's voice comes in. When it does, the sharp contrast threatens to break the tension that they've done so well to create; they almost seem to lose it at the critical point when the vocals interrupt the dark multi-layered wall of sound, but Gibbard pulls it all back together, nailing the rhythm before drums and guitars restart, prompting the crowd to clap to the hypnotic beat. When the eight minutes come to a close, it seems too early.
The final song "Transatlanticism" builds up to a crescendo with drummer Jason McGerr thumping the drums with arms raised. With their music finally gaining transatlantic recognition, what could be a more appropriate closing song?