The Postal Service Brings Seminal Album to Life at the Greek: Concert Review
In front of fans that waited years for the group to play live, Ben Gibbard, Jenny Lewis and Jimmy Tamborello operated at the top of their game.
“We're The Postal Service, and we're a band from nowhere,” declared frontman Ben Gibbard midway through the reunited electro-pop group's life-affirming show at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre on Tuesday night.
That statement is sort of true -- the band was notoriously founded a decade ago as a mail-order project between Gibbard, the singer-songwriter for Northwest indie-rock darlings Death Cab For Cutie, and Jimmy Tamborello, aka DNTEL, a DJ-producer in L.A. -- it also points to a progression in the unlikely saga of this semi-supergroup, now enjoying a cult fame that took years to establish, playing for throngs of fans who thought the prospect of seeing the band live was virtually impossible.
Other than one small tour when their thoroughly unheralded Sub Pop album Give Up came out 10 years ago, The Postal Service never played a show; when they re-emerged at Coachella this year, Gibbard said onstage that they couldn't even be considered a band. But now that they've been on the road for the bulk of this year, it's clearly far from the truth. The beloved, bleepy, melodic songs from Give Up, which gained a slow-build of cult superiority through mix tapes and quoted lyrics in dorm rooms and on road trips and late-night make-out sessions, have unexpectedly come alive onstage.
Gibbard and his lady-foil, Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, have crazy-great onstage chemistry: on songs like “Clark Gable” and most notably the breakup bouncer “Nothing Better,” the duo gazed into each other's eyes and spoon-danced while rotating instruments effortlessly. Tamborello -- the rare DJ who appears to be actually doing something during his performances -- especially came alive during the fan-favorite “Sleeping In, ” singing the chorus to a rush of applause amid Gibbard's re-telling of dreamland scenarios.
But, most impressively, was the full-band sound of these songs (helped, also, by multi-instrumentalist Laura Burhenn). On record, tracks like “This Place is A Prison” are charming atmosphere-setters for their lack of sonic depth, with electro-synths popping through whisks of harmony and battered drum tracks. Live, though, the band's added dynamics to each of those parts, smartly, with Gibbard occasionally hammering the drums or Lewis setting off a loop, each clearly done with purpose, amid an odd, overhanging light show that ads just the right element of mystery to each track.
The only downside is that the band's post-Give Up songs and B-sides, like “A Tattered Line of String” and “Be Still My Heart,” can't touch the gravitas of the original album's 10 tracks; likewise a cover of Beat Happening's obscure “Our Secret” fell flat -- why not play “Against All Odds,” which the band recorded a beat-up version of years ago, instead?
Still, for a band that barely exists, The Postal Service are clearly operating at the very top of their game; for fans who have waited 10 years to see them, it was apparent that all of them were glad they themselves never gave up.
Opener Big Freeda, a New Orleans rapper in the obscure, ass-led genre known as bounce, was acknowledged by the crowd as a novelty act, thanks to a stage show that exclusively consisted of large African-American women dancing like strippers while the rapper howled sexually explicit lyrics at them. In front of this largely Caucasian indie-rock crowd, it was clearly intended as irony, and instead came off as exploitation.
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
We Will Become Silhouettes
Be Still My Heart
Our Secret (Beat Happening cover)
This Place Is A Prison
There is Never Too Much Time
A Tattered Line Of String
Such Great Heights
The Ballad Of Evan And Chan
Brand New Colony