Gig review – Death Cab for Cutie, Say Hi, Sydney Opera House, 1 August

Doing a nice line in laptop pop, Say Hi plays in solo mode tonight, and though the introspection and small scale of his music seems made more for bedrooms than concert halls, it’s a winning and all-too-short set. By the last song, the infectious, fizzing ‘Take Ya’ Dancin’’, he’s won the crowd over and left them wanting more.

Death Cab For Cutie admit to feeling a bit like students doing a piano recital given the grandeur of the room, but they attack their work with an energy that is anything but stiff and formal. Whether by design or not, the setlist seems set out to showcase the different sides of a band sometimes unfairly pigeonholed as purveyors of heartbroken indie rock.

From the pent-up energy of ‘The New Year’ to the subtlety of the reflective ‘Grapevine Fires’, there’s something from every stage of their career – even ‘No Sunlight’ described as “the closest we come to surf rock” and played in honour of the local audience.

Although their lyrics have tended to the abstract in more recent work, ‘You’ve Haunted Me All My Life’, one of the highlights of this year’s Kintsugi,is all the more powerful for its directness. It ushers in the most downbeat stretch of the show, preceding the funereal ‘What Sarah Said’ and the hymn-like ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’, still their most affecting song.

While Ben Gibbard has to politely tell the crowd that clapping along with the latter song “isn’t going to work, sorry”, there’s no shortage of audience involvement in the arousing ‘Soul Meets Body’, which ends feels both intimate and genuinely huge.

The set proper ends with their most startling the creative left turn, the hypnotic, menacing ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’, before everyone is on their feet for an encore that returns to their wordy, poignant best with ‘Marching Bands Of Manhattan’ and finally ‘Transatlanticism’. A truly epic set.

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