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Death Cab for Cutie are still my guilty pleasure after all these years

Death Cab for CutiePhotos courtesy of Kathryna Hancock & Kevin Winter // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Death Cab for Cutie //
iHeartRadio Theater Los Angeles – Burbank, CA
April 2nd, 2015 //

Everyone has a guilty pleasure band. You know, that band you’ve listened to so many times that you’ve memorized most, if not all, of its lyrics, yet would never openly admit such to your friends?

Well, maybe you don’t. But I do — and that band happens to be Death Cab for Cutie.

Believe it or not, Death Cab are only a couple years away from their 20-year anniversary at this point. Much like their other indie-rock contemporaries from the Pacific Northwest (i.e. Built to Spill, Modest Mouse), they strayed far away from the now-famous Seattle grunge movement that was slowly on the decline by the late 90’s.

Death Cab for Cutie

Eighteen years later, and the Bellingham, Wash., group now boasts an impressive catalog that runs eight albums deep after the release of Kintsugi on Tuesday. It’s another full-length effort that most Death Cab fans should come to enjoy, even if the songwriting follows much of the same formula that the band has employed on its previous seven studio albums.

Yet, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed for frontman Ben Gibbard and his bandmates. Founding guitarist and producer Chris Walla has moved on, officially leaving the band last summer, and while he still manages to leave his imprint on Kintsugi, the band’s producing duties have been turned over to an outside force, otherwise known as the highly regarded Rich Costey (Muse, Sigur Rós, Foster the People, Chvrches, Phantogram, Young the Giant).

Gibbard has always been known for making “pretty” music whether it’s with Death Cab or his electronic-leaning side project The Postal Service, and that’s certainly still the case on Kintsugi despite the record receiving some rather ho-hum reviews this week. Because even with Gibbard being divorced from actress-singer Zooey Deschanel for a couple years now, it’s hard to not think of Deschanel when he sings lyrics like “I guess it’s not a failure we could help / And we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”

Death Cab for Cutie

But if creating a mood is what music is supposed to be about, then Gibbard is still doing a fine job in that regard. Sure, it may not be the happiest mood that’s being fashioned — and seemingly it’s always been that way for Death Cab — but it’s still one fans can relate to, as evidenced by the long line that stood outside the iHeartRadio Theater for the band’s special invite-only show last night in LA.

Performing material from Kintsugi in front of a live audience for just the second time after Wednesday’s appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Gibbard and company reminded us that they’re not just a bunch of sappy chaps. Instead, they breathed new life into staples like “The New Year” and “Soul Meets Body,” providing a newfound energy that absorbed much of the somberness you get when you listen to these songs on 2003’s Transatlanticism or 2005’s Plans.

Then there was “Black Sun,” the first single off Kintsugi, a slow burn that reached its apex with a gritty guitar solo from touring member Dave Depper. It quickly sent me back in time to 2011 when I watched Death Cab headline Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco and became thoroughly impressed with how lively and almost upbeat their show actually was. Once again, these were sad songs that didn’t feel nearly as melancholy as they had at one time or another.

And even if they did, Death Cab would still be my guilty pleasure band.

Setlist:

The New Year
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
You Are a Tourist
Black Sun
Soul Meets Body
No Room in Frame
Little Wanderer
Photobooth
Crooked Teeth
Transatlanticism

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