By Don Shiau
By Don Shiau

There’s something about Death Cab For Cutie’s bookish, melancholic, minor-chord balladry that is inherently divisive. On one hand, it’s cloyingly earnest, unexciting and devoid of swagger. On the other, it’s spoken the truth for two decades to countless people emerging into adulthood, as they lay awake at night overthinking their relationships.

It’s spoken deeply enough to audiences in Singapore for Ben Gibbard and Co. to return for their third concert in here in eight years, this time at The Coliseum. The album they’re pushing this round is Kintsugi, which marks a turning point in the band’s history. It’s the last to be written and recorded with founding guitarist Chris Walla, the first to be performed without him, and the first to be written after Gibbard’s high-profile divorce with Zooey Deschanel.

Supporting the Washington outfit was Singapore’s own Take Two, who are already seasoned in opening for international acts, having done so for Walk The Moon and Travis. The boys sounded tight and confident, frontman Paddy Ong exhibited a presence rare for homegrown acts, hitting all the right notes not just vocally, but also in showmanship–neither under-selling or overplaying it.

Death Cab’s own set was a tireless 100-minute, 21-song romp through their back catalogue, foregrounding the new album as well as fan favourites Plans and Transatlanticism, while also reaching as far back as 1997’s You Can Play These Songs With Chords. It was delivered with vigour, each song launching off the back of another, Gibbard bobbing restlessly even when retreating behind a piano. A surprisingly good sound mix added weight and muscle to even the most tepid of tunes. Synth nuances sparkled, guitars tore through, and even Gibbard’s defeatist, plaintive whine held up well. Heavier tracks like “The New Year” bristled and snarled, “I Will Possess Your Heart” became swampy and hypnotic, and perennial closer “Transatlanticism” swelled to sonic saturation, along with the hearts of fans.

All this demanded considerable effort, which made Gibbard remark somewhat customarily about Singapore’s heat, but you believed him because he kept pausing to towel himself off in between songs.

Energy aside, this was ultimately a Death Cab gig, where the silences are just as important as the sounds. The biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the quietest moments, particularly the emotionally manipulative pairing of the piano-led “What Sarah Said” (“Love is watching someone die / So who’s gonna watch you die”) with the equally fatalistic crossover hit “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” (“If there’s no-one beside you when your soul embarks / Then I’ll follow you into the dark”).

The effect of Walla’s absence will be hard to discern until newer material is written, but onstage, his sessionist stand-ins were more than able to replicate his parts and keep in step. All said, the concert was a demonstration of how downbeat, almost bland studio recordings can sound compelling when performed with conviction, and amplified to an audience of thousands. It was a re-affirmation for those who already believed, and enough to move the indifferent.

(Don Shiau)

Thanks to Symmetry Entertainment for making this review possible.