Death Cab for Cutie, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, gig review: The group’s emo roots have all but disappeared

There was something unsatisfactory about a show that tried to offer something for everyone

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Tonight marks an early date in Death Cab’s world tour and despite nearly two decades in the industry, they seem a little uncomfortable in this snug venue, on a stage which can barely accommodate the three band members and their various instruments. Lead singer Ben Gibbard remarks “It feels like you guys are all here in my lap, not in a weird way” as he’s restricted to rocking back and forth on the spot with his guitar, like a wobbly toddler trying to dance.

This is the first string of shows in the UK since 2011. This time they’re here to showcase their eighth studio album, Kintsugi, named after the Japanese art of gluing shattered objects back together and inspired in part by Gibbard’s divorce from New Girl star Zoey Deschanel.

Kintsugi takes a decisive and populist new direction, wrought by producer Rich Costey (Muse, Interpol) in which the group’s emo roots have all but disappeared underneath twinkly keyboards, shimmering cymbals and insistent guitar throbs, most evident in the slowly pulsating lead single “Black Sun” and trite yet catchy “Little Wanderer”. 

There’s a clear division tonight between fans of the new sound, who have only just discovered the band and the fans of old, who are sticking around just to hear the seminal “Transatlanticism” and dirgey  “President of What?”  from the group’s 1998 debut album Something About Airplanes. Try as he might, Gibbard fails to unite the two camps with stand-up quality banter about the new Sex Pistols credit card range, or a sweet, middle-of the road acoustic rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. 

Maybe it’s a sign that the group have outgrown this mid-size venue and are already yearning for the stadium tours ahead, but there was something unsatisfactory about this show which tried, yet failed, to offer something for everyone.

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