ST. PETERSBURG — After three opening songs and a lot of cheers from his fans, Ben Gibbard finally addressed the crowd that had sold out Jannus Live Tuesday.
“Thanks for coming,” said the Death Cab for Cutie frontman. “It’s been too long.”
Death Cab for Cutie had never actually performed in St. Petersburg before, a quick jaunt through both the Times archive and setlist.fm revealed. They have, however, played Tampa thrice, most recently in 2004. 2004! The year “Lost” first aired on TV and President Ronald Reagan died.
The fans didn’t seem to mind the wait, especially after being treated to around two dozen songs spanning the band’s extensive catalogue. The eight-time Grammy-nominated indie rockers have certainly produced plenty to choose from.
Since their last visit in these parts, roughly two decades on the road — and 10 full-length albums — have polished Gibbard and the gang into masterful rockstars. Spilling out a smooth voice that sounded ripped straight from the recordings, Gibbard flung his guitar in the air and galloped back and forth across the stage between bassist Nick Harmer and guitarist Dave Depper. Gibbard occasionally paused to flick his forehead sweat onto his wristband, like an NBA player who had just barreled down the court.
Gibbard, the only band member to address the crowd, also took numerous moments to admire Florida, or as he put it, “one of the greatest states in the world to play.” He fondly recalled the band’s first visit to Jacksonville, and praised St. Pete for singing loud and proud.
“Not gonna lie, that’s the best one on the tour so far,” he said after the crowd joined him for every word of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.”
A highlight of the evening came when Gibbard sat behind the piano for a blistering rendition of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” His fans began screaming as soon as the familiar bass line kicked in. Simmering in a pool of scarlet light, the band indulged in the full, eight and a half-minute version of the song, slowly building something magical.
“You know, it’s the oddest thing. Whenever we start playing “I Will Posses Your Heart,” it smells like weed,” Gibbard said. “But the entire song, all I could smell was a cigar.” (Perhaps some representation from our neighbors in Ybor City?)
While the grandest singalongs coincided with the hits, like “The Sound of Settling,” and “Crooked Teeth,” the crowd still bopped along to the half-dozen songs from the latest album, “Asphalt Meadows.” Fans seemed especially pleased with the road trip-themed tune “Rand McNally,” which Death Cab dedicated to its grunge-inspired opening band, Momma.
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At the back of the venue, the merch table displayed pink shirts with the words “sad music” printed on the front. But let’s be real: Everyone seemed happy to be there, even those who snuck out early to beat traffic (no shame on a school night!)
The band closed out their encore with the titular track of beloved album “Transatlanticism,” which turns 20 this year.
“We’ll see you next time,” Gibbard said, waving and bowing.
Next time can’t come soon enough. But we’ll wait some more if we have to.