words: Jarith Hughes // photos: Lucas Packett @lucas_packett_photography
“..Gibbard’s voice is unmistakably iconic. Clear and soothing whilst also being yearning and raw. There’s a balance of melancholy and hope in his delivery.”
It’s a beautiful autumn evening and all the leaves are beginning fall around Melbourne’s Performing Arts Center. We collect our tickets and enter the intimidating and grandiose Hamer Hall.
I walk in to what feels like a gust of shimmering guitars and a crystal clear voice that belongs to Hatchie, as she executes the chorus to her opening song. Standing center stage, draped in vintage threads to match her walnut tinted Fender bass guitar, Harriette Pillbeam known as Hatchie leads her band through a set of dreamy pop songs off her debut EP released last year. Big simplistic drum grooves partnered with her thumping bass lines, acoustic guitar, silky synths and glittery delay drenched guitars set the scene for the vocals glide through and capture your undivided attention. Something in the phrasing of the vocals hits me with nostalgia. I’m reminded of The Go-Betweens, Paul Kelly and a few other Aussie songwriters and storytellers. There’s also a real good dose of sugary 80’s power chorus’s. Blown away by Hatchie’s set, I am excited for her success and growth and for the future of Australian music.
A vibrant sense of anticipation and excitement hang five stories high from the chandeliers of this remarkable hall. It feels like a perfect partnership to host one of the greatest Art Rock bands of my generation is such a intentionally dedicated space for art. We return to our seats, Cab Sav in hand, timed perfectly with the dimming of the lights.
Death Cab For Cutie take to the stage in a wash of deep blue light. Rich, warm keys warble the introduction to the opening song “I Dreamt We Spoke Again” from their latest album Thank You For Today.
At first, I was a little apprehensive when I realised that I would be watching Death Cab in a seated theatre. Would the atmosphere be too passive or yielding? To my amazement I found myself at the edge of my chair as though I was on an escalating roller coaster bound for twists and turns as the songs took shape.
I’m entranced by sparkling, spanking lead guitars ringing out with delays and reverb I could swim in. Syncopated and complex rhythms projecting out from the drums, fusing jazz inspired technique and finesse with the steadiest of rock backbeats rolling through like a faithful old steam train. Deep driving bass lines that carry riffs of their own, while harmonising with the contending keyboards and rhythm guitars compelling chord progressions. There is so much happening, yet it all works symbiotically. My attention shifts from one element to another, yet I never feel distracted from the song. This is testament to work and craftsmanship of Death Cab’s songs.
Ben Gibbard’s voice is unmistakably iconic. Clear and soothing whilst also being yearning and raw. There’s a balance of melancholy and hope in his delivery. The juxtaposition of Gibbards honesty in his voice and rehearsed theatrics on stage intrigue me. The band seem to have their space and moves well worn in over time and are no strangers to commanding the attention of the masses.
Death Cab For Cutie performed hit songs after another spanning their entire discography over the twenty years spent as a band. The multitudes in the audience seemed to connect with these songs as though they’re an integral part of their life soundtrack. Young and Old together to witness and experience these songs together with the band. It’s evident the music comes first, with songs like “I Will Posses Your Heart” jamming out for over five minutes building and cascading before a single line is sung.
The eruption of applause silenced by the return encore song, arguably Death Cab’s most successful, the acoustic ballad “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark”. The entire concert hall joins Ben Gibbard like a church choir. Death Cab For Cutie bring the night to a close on their epic track “Transatlanticism” with a euphoric sonic wash of guitars and the earnest lyrics “I need you so much closer”. The room is reawakened by the warming light, and I’m reintroduced with the beauty of this hall. I return home from a truly special night, one that’ll be hard to ever beat.