Death Cab for Cutie possesses aging emo hearts at ACL Fest

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Twenty-five years into a massively influential career, lonely hearts collective Death Cab for Cutie proved on Saturday that indie, emo, what have you — this is a rock band that endures in our hearts, “Mr. Brightside”-style.

Frontman Ben Gibbard was loose and seemed happy before a Honda stage audience at the Austin City Limits Music Festival that afforded watchers plenty of elbow room because hurling-toward-Earth pop comet Lil Nas X was crashing at Zilker Park during the same window across the way.

It’s as if Gibbard finally found the happy medium where, like his song goes, “soul meets body.”

“Who’s out there smoking that dirt weed?” the songwriter riffed. “You gotta get like us up in Washington.”

Here are five key scouting notes about the veteran rockers that will make you reconsider their legacy as just “that band from teen drama 'The O.C.’”

Oh snap, the emo legends have a new record out.

They are here not just for sentimental reasons but because the scene vets recently released a new record, “Asphalt Meadows,” the band’s 10th. Pitchfork, the longtime indie tastemakers, said that on it the musicians “unlock the repressed memory of what it was like to be deeply moved by Death Cab for Cutie.” It’s a compliment and a diss.

“I can’t help but keep falling in love with bones and ashes,” Gibbard sang on “Here to Forever,” a soul-searching screed about trying to understand his legacy as a reasonably successful rock singer.

'I Will Follow You Into the Dark' is still uncomfortable and sad.

Gibbard strummed the acoustic ballad about following a dying partner into death with a dry, knowing “Here’s a love song for you” intro. You’ve heard that one on TV shows like “Scrubs,” and dang if it isn’t an effective, universal gut-punch. Many people at Zilker sang along. That’s what the band does that endures in thousands of hearts: Find that vulnerable opening that makes you embarrassed to feel because it’s grossly earnest. Ugh.

“I’m not particularly good at math,” Gibbard said before the final chorus. “So when I tell my mom about this, I’m gonna say we played in front of 200,000 people.”

Gibbard’s hair has not moved out of place in 20 years.

Is Ben Gibbard the most proudly on-brand emo frontman of all time? Flop of hair that ducks beneath your eyebrow? Check. Calling your songs, clearly written on the back of ‘90s emo mainstays like Built to Spill and Sunny Day Real Estate, “old timey indie rock”? Check. Lyrics about sharing clove cigarettes? Of course.

It’s still all about 'Transatlanticism.'

It’s fall 2003, and my new scenester friend at the University of Texas hates the increasingly buzzy new album “Transatlanticism” by her favorite band, Death Cab. There’s a bird on it, the unofficial mascot of American twee malaise. These songs are pop anthems by sellouts. The band is done. The CD-R she makes for me, a 50 Cent-loving member of her freshman interest group trying to navigate the judgmental world of college rock, instead features Mirah and Dismemberment Plan.

What happens next is everyone at Zilker stops in their tracks when the band busts out “The New Year” three songs in.

I don’t feel any different.

But 2005’s 'I Will Possess Your Heart' is the band’s most-beloved song.

Like a book elegantly bound, Gibbard sang this one you may remember from its accompanying music video where the band performs in an icy cave in jackets and you see his breath to prove the conditions are real: shaking his head in front of a piano. The very piano that vibed onstage for 45 minutes before being played. They don’t call it “Flextober” for nothing.

The band sparked exceptional peripheral vibes, too — along the flags, by the Hulu activation, couples hugged and passers-by mouthed along.

Don’t ever say Death Cab didn’t write great tunes for trucking along.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Death Cab for Cutie possesses aging emo hearts at ACL Fest Weekend 2