Review: Death Cab for Cutie in Manila

Adrian Arcega

“On behalf of the four of us, we'd like to apologize. This is our first time in the Philippines,” Ben Gibbard, the singer-songsmith behind Death Cab for Cutie, tells the audience as he sheepishly looks down.

The American band played a 24-song show on Monday, March 5 at the NBC Tent in the Fort, Taguig. The audience, which filled every inch of the venue, applauded (more like “screamed,” and even that was an understatement) as if to give the poster boys of sensitive rock their approval.

“If we only knew how cool you were,” adds Gibbard, “we would have been here sooner.”

“I think we're going to have a long and beautiful friendship.” And with that, the crowd just lost it.

Here for real

Death Cab for Cutie started their set much like they did in their previous shows in Australia and Taiwan: quiet and delicate with their song “A Lack of Color,” setting the mood for a potentially  emotional (and rightfully so) rollercoaster ride for the rest of the night.

“This is fact not fiction / for the first time in years.” The song's line takes on a whole new meaning as Gibbard seems to say to the crowd, “Hey, were finally here. For real.” Tears start flowing all over the place, both from the girls and the guys. Especially the guys.

The song segued to the band's 8-minuter, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” People start dancing. Akin to the feeling where after moping for weeks on end because of the end of a relationship, one decides to finally live like there's no tomorrow.

Really good live

As the band proceeded to do one upbeat song after another (you can check out the Philippine set list here), it began to dawn on the audience how good Death Cab for Cutie was, live.

Guitarist Chris Walla was the epitome of the deliberate musician: he riffed when the songs needed “normal” guitar, and dived into textural soundscapes in other parts. All without overdoing it, as less-than-able musicians tend to do.

The rhythm section of Nick Harmer (who swapped instruments with Walla for “We Looked Like Giants”) and the dynamic drumming of Jason McGerr were nothing short of solid.

But beyond the brilliant musicality of the band, what was most noticeable was Gibbard's stage presence, which surprised both the fans and the pseudo-fans who watched the show.

‘Makes divorce look good’

None of the band members were lookers in the rockstar sense, and they're not a band known for outrageous onstage antics (they were “sensitive songsmiths” after all).

But as the singer trotted, danced, and raised his guitar, an audience member was overheard saying, “Wow, he makes divorce look good.”

Gibbard recently divorced actress and indie darling Zooey Deschanel.

Of course, because the band is known for tugging heartstrings, the band shifted again to melancholia with “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” Gibbard was apparently surprised when the crowd sang every single line. Despite the bittersweet nature of the song, he could not help but smile.

The band “ended” the show with that ironically-upbeat “The Sound of Settling.” But the crowd obviously would not have any of it, as they screamed (the decibel levels must have reached insane levels) “We Want More” again and again. Predictably, the band returned with “Home Is A Fire.”

Vampires and tears

The encore turned momentarily funny as Gibbard introduced the next song. “This next one is about a vampire,” he chuckled. They band the proceeded to do their contribution to the “Twilight” movie franchise, “Meet Me at the Equinox.”

“A Movie Script Ending” later, and the band finally ended their concert on a grand, sad note with the title track off their breakthrough album, “Transatlanticism.”

And with that, every single person in the venue spontaneously burst into tears.

Postscript: Ben Gibbard tweeted on Tuesday, March 6, “Pretty much the wildest, loudest crowd we've ever played for last night. We will DEFINITELY be back, Manila!”

Read OMG! exclusive interview with Death Cab for Cutie here.