The Postal Service
What were you doing in 2003? It was a question that seemed to be on the minds of many folks in attendance last night during the Postal Service's show at the Greek Theatre. The indie supergroup — Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tambarello and Jenny Lewis, — became famous a decade ago on the power of their one and only album Give Up. Last night's show was part of a reunion tour done in conjunction with its ten year anniversary.
Made during a time when few artists were making music on their laptops, Give Up set a precedent for computer music and produced electro-pop hits including “Such Great Heights.” “I fell in love to this music,” a woman in the audience mused. “I listened to Give Up the first time I got high,” recalled a man. “I played this record over and over when I first moved to Los Angeles,” said another lady.
Fact is, the Postal Service made legitimately great music. These songs hold up, and last night sounded as fresh and sweet and modern as they did upon release.
“We're a band from nowhere called the Postal Service,” Gibbard announced when the group came onstage just after 9pm. They opened with a trio of hits — “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” “We Will Become Silhouettes” and “Sleeping In,” a song Gibbard called “a truce.” Each track sounded basically just like it does on the album. Some sort of improvisation would have been welcomed, but most folks probably preferred it this way. The Postal Service toured briefly behind Give Up in 2003, but for most fans, the 2013 shows are the first opportunity to hear these songs live.
Opener Big Freedia, a bounce MC from New Orleans, performed with a trio of dancers who spent most of the set bent over twerking — serious, sustained, ass-out twerking. It was entertainment bordering on absurdist humor, and a (perhaps intentionally) odd choice of opener for a band focused on romance. Still, the show was fun, and watching the sign language interpreter take on lyrics like “ass everyone ass everywhere” was delightful. Later in the evening, Gibbard dedicated the group's biggest hit “Such Great Heights” to Freedia, calling it an honor to be on tour with the transgender artist.
Of course, a band with one album doesn't have a ton of material to work with. The Postal Service played everything from Give Up along with “Tattered Line of String” and “Turn Around” new tracks from the recently released deluxe anniversary edition of the album. A playful cover or two, something like the group's rendition of Phil Collins' “Against All Odds” that also appears on the re-release, would have been a welcome addition to the setlist.
“Ladies and gentlemen, how many of you have had your hearts broken here in Los Angeles?” Gibbard asked before launching into “Nothing Better.” “This song is for you.” The audience cheered, all of us apparently grateful for the opportunity to remember heartbreak.
Gibbard himself sounded great and looked well. The past decade has seen him record three albums with his other band Death Cab for Cutie, tour extensively, get sober, marry Zooey Deschanel, record a solo album and divorce Zooey Deschanel. At this point he looks happy and fit. Dressed all in black, he did a sort of modified running man dance while alternating between guitar and drums. The chemistry between him and Lewis was obvious, with the two exchanging much eye contact and many smiles during the show, and at several points engaging in a darling little side step dance. It, like most of the Postal Service's output, was precious.
Lewis herself was a focal point of the evening. Postal Service material is primarily credited to Gibbard and Tambarello, but Lewis was a secret weapon on that album, adding a vital feminine perspective. Live, the former Rilo Kiley frontwoman is as much of a bandleader as Gibbard, and some of the evening's loudest cheers of happened when she sang her response verse on “Nothing Better” (“I feel I must interject here….”)
Tambarello is largely responsible for giving The Postal Service its electronic edge, and last night he rarely looked up from his pair of laptops positioned at the center of the stage. For this tour, the group also includes Laura Burhenn of the group The Mynabirds on xylophone and backing vocals.
“It truly means something to us that this record means something to you ten years later,” Gibbard said before the group closed the show with the fuzzed out elecro jam “Natural Anthem.” They foursome returned to the stage for “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” a song by Tambarello's group Dntel. They closed the show with “Brand New Colony” with Gibbard leading the audience in a group singalong of the song's final line, “everything will change.”
Indeed, none of our lives look how they did ten years ago. But last night the Postal Service exemplified music's power to transport one into the past, and how joyful and even comforting that can be.
Overheard in the crowd: “They're so seminal!”
Personal Bias: To the guy I was dating in 2003: Hi. I'm sorry. I did my best.
Random Notebook Dump: “Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis should get married.”
The Postal Service performs again this evening at the Greek Theatre
See setlist below: