Oxford is about as far as you can get from the OC tonight; there are definitely no palm trees around, everyone's too wrapped up under scarves and gloves to work on their tan and it's bloody freezing. Seth Cohen would probably die instantly. But inside the Brookes University union Death Cab For Cutie only have two kinds of songs, love songs and summer songs- it's with that last kind that they bring California to the UK- great, catchy-as-all-hell, irresistible melodic slices of it. Tracks like 'Marching Bands' and 'Settling' simmer with the kind of heat you only get from sunstroke or a packed out gig.
But they're not the only ones that mess with the musical temperature gauge. On record John Vanderslice is another broken balladeer, moping lonely about suicide and fruitless dreams, but with the aid of a full backing band tonight his songs are transformed. They maintain their indie feeling but become the subtlest of guitar-pop, all breathy harmonies and handclaps, and every clever vocal or keyboard hook acts as the perfect warm-up for Death Cab.
The headliners have been on tour for six weeks now so they could be forgiven for forgetting what home looks like, let alone be able to sing about it, but for many of the collected emo faithful Death Cab are quiet, unassuming heroes and the greeting they get could inspire the dead. The band are on top form too, tight and hard, heavier than on record with frontman Ben Gibbard's voice cutting through the songs rather than floating over them. New single 'Crooked Teeth' gets a huge reaction, suggesting the bands' star is still on the rise, 'New Year' and 'Different Names' are emotional highlights and the seamless swapping of instruments and jokes with the crowd prove there is a sense of humour in there too.
Sometimes the band don't quite click, they've never looked or sounded like they should be playing in rooms this size. They never quite 'rock' either and stick to formula a little too often, including Gibbard's samey tone, which means songs mix into each other, but still there are thrilling highs and chilling lows. When Gibbard returns for an acoustic encore the room is totally silent except for those singing along, and it's moments like that, when the connection between band and audience is strongest, that Death Cab For Cutie make perfect sense.
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