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Death Cab For Cutie takes an unexpected turn at the Midland

Death Cab for Cutie, including Jason McGerr (from left), Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer, will play Thursday at the Midland.
Death Cab for Cutie, including Jason McGerr (from left), Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer, will play Thursday at the Midland. Chris Rhoads and Sarah Rhoads

Songs about emptiness filled the Midland theater on Thursday.

A capacity audience heard Death Cab For Cutie perform songs about loss, heartbreak and desolation.

Associated with wistful songs of longing since its inception in Washington in 1997, Death Cab seems even sadder on its new album “Kintsugi.”

Chris Walla, Death Cab’s longtime guitarist and producer, left the band during the recording sessions. As tabloids breathlessly reported, the band’s front man and lyricist Ben Gibbard and the actress Zooey Deschanel divorced since the release of the previous Death Cab album.

These troubles may be what inspired Death Cab to alter its sound for much of Thursday’s concert, a date that Gibbard said was “the very first night of a very long tour.”

Death Cab has often resembled an indie-rock version of an easy-listening ensemble. On Thursday, the band boasted a surprisingly muscular attack. Assisted by two additional musicians, the remaining three members of Death Cab traded their signature antiseptic technique for a refreshingly virile approach.

While Gibbard’s banter was gracious, his deliciously vitriolic songs were delivered with extraordinarily angry intent.

He and his band mates unleashed their wild sides on “Doors Unlocked and Opened,” transforming the song into a post-punk missive. The scathing "Black Sun," the most immediately engaging song on “Kintsugi,” was even more caustic on Thursday.

During “President of What?,” an obscure selection from its debut album, Death Cab sounded like a rugged 1960s garage rock band. The entirely contemporary “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” conversely, featured a sinister dance beat.

These stylistic variations allowed Death Cab to maintain the attention of the audience without playing any of its biggest songs until its hour-and-fifty minute outing was almost over.

An arrangement of the 2008 hit “I Will Possess Your Heart” was genuinely funky, a significant achievement for a band that’s traditionally been less danceable than the default alarm tone on a cellphone.

Death Cab’s makeover isn’t immutable. The band reverted to form during an encore that included three of its best known selections.

Gibbard played a solo-acoustic rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” a ballad about a love that endures after death. A straightforward reading of “Soul Meets Body” allowed the audience to sing along with gusto.

“Transatlanticism” served as the melancholy closing selection. While lovely, the daring rock that made up the bulk of the concert was even more rewarding.

SET LIST: No Room in Frame, Crooked Teeth, Why You’d Want to Live Here, Doors Unlocked and Open, Title and Registration, Black Sun, Little Wanderer, Photobooth, President of What?, You’ve Haunted Me All My Life, What Sarah Said, Your Heart Is an Empty Room, The Ghosts of Beverly Drive, You Are a Tourist, The New Year, Cath…

I Will Possess Your Heart

I Will Follow You Into the Dark

Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)

Soul Meets Body