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The mordant emotionalism that Ben Gibbard possesses is unlike any other musician of his time. His lyrics are a sharp mix of desire and frustration; raw pain and longing are only eclipsed by leaner arrangements that attest to his seamless artistry. To a sold out Boston crowd this past Saturday at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, the man was all business as he glided through Death Cab for Cutie’s catalogue that spans nearly two decades. Gibbard was brilliantly minimalist–almost to a fault. There were no clever teases, no stirring storytelling, no ebullient crowd banter. Even his introduction to the band’s set seemed slightly lackluster: “What’s going on, ya’ll? This band is called Death Cab for Cutie. Please feel free to stand if you dig [the songs].”
Gibbard’s stoic demeanor may have been off-putting, but Death Cab’s execution of their best songs was anything but. Kintsugi, their eighth studio album, is all rain–Gibbard’s skywritten salvos are smothered by heartwrenching balladry. “No Room in Frame,” “Black Sun,” and “You Haunted Me All My Life” were just as fragile live as they were recorded. Even when Gibbard remarked that “Little Wanderer” was a love song, it was hard to believe that it wouldn’t somehow serve as a precursor to heartbreak.
“Photobooth” and “President of What” were unexpected glimpses into the band’s earlier years; “Crooked Teeth” and “The New Year” were the most exciting moments of the evening. But the energy of both songs was washed over with dour tunes like “What Sarah Said,” “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” and the evening’s closer “Transatlanticism.” For two straight hours, Death Cab for Cutie rolled out a breadth of introspection while still courting and bending the mainstream. Leaving with the feeling that you were just struck by an emotional sledgehammer of a performance was just on par with the course.