The Postal Service

Benjamin Gibbard's 'Give Up' & 'Transatlanticism'....
The Postal Service : Live
The Postal Service : Live

In 2003, Benjamin Gibbard released two seminal records. His band Death Cab for Cutie put out Transatlanticism, which placed them at the forefront of the burgeoning aughts indie music scene (aided by the undying love of Death Cab from Seth Cohen on The O.C.QRO Best Music of The O.C.). He also had a one-off side-project with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello, The Postal Service, and along with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis released Give Up (QRO deluxe edition review), which might not have gotten a lot of notice at the time of release, but within a few years was considered the seminal indietronica album (aided by Iron & Wine’s cover of Give Up’s “Such Great Heights” on the decade’s seminal Garden State soundtrack). In the years since, Death Cab jumped to a major label, changed some members, and is now one of the biggest, most reliable alternative rock bands out there. The Postal Service’s posthumous legend only grew & grew, from their 2013 reunion tour (QRO photos) to live album Everything Will Change (QRO review) to being constantly name-checked by those fighting against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s war against his own government service. Benjamin Gibbard himself married & divorced New Girl Zooey Deschanel, got sober & married, and even hosted daily livestreams during the most dicey, most alone early part of the COVID pandemic lockdown. In 2023, both of Gibbard’s bands toured both of his seminal 20th anniversary albums in full, coming to New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden (QRO venue review) for two nights, Tuesday & Wednesday, September 19th & 20th.

By the time on Wednesday that Death Cab came on as ‘opener’ (they’ve headlined stadiums before) the big place was pretty full, with Gen Y alternative music fans now in their thirties & forties. Those extra years helped explain why the crowd remained mostly seated during Transatlanticism (if not during Give Up). Death Cab is naturally more focused on Gibbard than it was twenty years ago, particularly after the 2014 departure of Chris Walla, but he’s also a more active frontman than back then, in better shape & a better mood. He once sang that he couldn’t wait to go grey on “Sound of Settling”, and it appears to be true, as Gibbard has a particular sway on stage now. He would occasionally put down his guitar and just croon it, such as on “Transatlanticism” and “Passenger Seat”, but even in the former he eventually picked up his axe again (right when fans were putting up their smartphone lights, something that didn’t even exist in 2003). “All these songs are true stories, with the exception of this one” Gibbard said before “Death of an Interior Decorator”, with the even the saddest such as closer “Lack of Color” getting a brighter boost from his success (and the sing-along to that finisher).

The night was less the usual ‘opener(s) then headliner’ – Warpaint played their own short set very first – but rather two headliners, albeit neither playing some extended ‘greatest hits’ time. But that’s understandable when playing two albums in full, as regular full-lengths aren’t the length of a whole show. Not to mention that The Postal Service only had one album in total. But sharing members Gibbard and Death Cab transplant Dave Depper (who must have passed the auditions) meant for a quick turnover (where everyone in the crowd tried to get a drink and/or pee), though that did include a clothes change, as the stage went from everyone in Death Cab dress in black, to everyone in The Postal Service dressed in white.

But that’s kind of a reflection of the different natures of the two acts, Death Cab being all mopey indie-rock, while Postal Service being lighter indietronica. There’s a very good reason it’s become such an iconic record, despite being the band’s only record, which wasn’t even recognized at the time (anyone who tells you they saw the band’s one 2003 tour is probably lying…). There have been other one-and-done albums, but usually due to the band flaming out in ugly ways (think Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols). Instead, Give Up might be one of the first records rediscovered in the age of online music, from mp3s to streams (though many of these fans probably still have their original CD).

This was reflected on sing-alongs for literally every song, not just the likes of opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” or “Sleeping In” (the latter of which your correspondent, despite having it stuck in his head for two decades, only noticed now rhymes “November” with “November”, albeit in separate references to the Kennedy assassination and global warming…), but also relative ‘lesser knowns’ such as “Recycled Air”. Yes, a good number of fans took the sad “This Place Is a Prison” as a chance to sit down, but we’re all geriatric millennials by now.

Gibbard was once again the excited frontman, but particularly special was the work from Lewis and Tamborello. The latter has always been ‘the other guy in the Postal Service’, as he’s no frontman and Dntel is no Death Cab, but he plays the side-guy part so well, and certainly was visible in his raised back area (with bonus points for his vocoded voice at the end of “Air”). Lewis has long been the missing key to the group, her duet vocals with Gibbard shining, whether simply as back-up or in full-on duet in “Nothing Better”, Gibbard literally joyously ceding the front space to her for her part, and them wonderfully dueling as his part pleaded for “slowly growing old together,” while she nicely but firmly held that it was “time to say goodbye”. And it wasn’t just singing, Lewis having a whole array of instruments in front of her, while Gibbard got on drums at the end of “Silhouettes”, “Prison”, and “Clark Gable”.

“When we started this project 22 years ago, we never thought that we’d play Madison Square Garden. But we’re here, and that’s thanks to you guys…” Gibbard announced before Give Up closer “Natural Anthem” (whose line about the song becoming an anthem for “workers on strike for better pay” rings stronger in this era of labor action). Gibbard & Lewis returned for the encore just alone, to do “a cover” – i.e., their version of Iron & Wine’s acoustic version of “Such Great Heights”. And for the big finish, both bands took the stage (both all in white) for an actual cover, Depeche Mode’s iconic “Enjoy the Silence”.

It’ll never be 2003 again, you’ll never be that young again, and while Ben Gibbard & Seth Cohen might look better know (gone Hollywood…), you probably don’t. But for a night, you could sing along to the soundtrack of your twenties like you never did then, probably never even thought you ever could.

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