By Devon Adams
Nostalgia is not dead. We all have regrets, lost loves, and memories both sorrowful and joyful. There’s a soundtrack for our lives. Those songs remind us of late summer nights a decade before or return that smell of dad’s old Chevy to our nostrils. For 5,000 attendees to Comerica Theatre last Thursday evening that soundtrack featured The Postal Service; a band who released a single record a decade ago, hasn’t toured in years, and had never performed together in Arizona until last week. Comprised of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, producer Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel), Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley, and Laura Burhenn who previously toured with Bright Eyes, The Postal Service has recorded two new songs, released a 10th Anniversary “Give Up” album, and recently rocked through Phoenix.
The opening act, YACHT, danced their way through a surreal post-electronica indie set and succeeded to power through vocal mic issues from the soundboard before The Postal Service took the stage. I had seen Death Cab for Cutie two years ago on this very stage and immediately recognized Gibbard’s frenetic, passionate dancing as he played guitar or keys while singing lead vocals. The pit immediately went wild with some of the people around me waiting half of their lives to see this live performance. Gibbard immediately reminded us that he’s “a visitor here” through a fabulous introduction featuring “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” During the second song, Lewis set down her guitar and danced across the stage with her salmon colored dress mere shades darker than her own ginger hair. She kicked up her black and white wing tipped shoes while Gibbard bounced back to an off center drum kit where he beat through the second half of “We Will Become Silhouettes,” a song that everyone in the theatre seemingly knew. By the fourth song, Burhenn’s backing female vox were featured on “Turn Around,” one of the newest tracks by the band. The energy between Gibbard and Lewis exuded a playful whimsy on “Nothing Better” that hinted at a romanticism the media has wondered continuously over the past decade. These two smiled and danced across the stage together and obviously enjoyed working together on this tour. While Lewis returned to stage right where her guitar sat near her keys and sang into two separate mics (one was autotuned), Gibbard surprisingly danced and played across the front of the stage through “Recycled Air.” Tamborello, positioned on a raised back center stage producing the entire show and having a damn good time of it, finished off the last few lyrics of this song before bringing a melodica to his mouth for “Be Still My Heart.” The light show, impressive to this point, suddenly grew in awesomeness until light beams rolled up behind Tamborello and out into the audience far towards the rear of the theatre. Lyrics like “brand new start” and “wake me up, and you’re still here” reminded the audience not only of the universality of The Postal Service’s message but also hints at a future sophomore undertaking.
As Gibbard started playing the opening notes to “Clark Gable,” a fan near me yelled “this keeps getting better and better!” The pit chanted the opening lines to the song and Gibbard could not stop smiling as he moved back to the drum kit once again. Clapping and singing in unison, the fans danced through the catchy song before, in a surprising move, Lewis left her post to also play drums (does anyone in the band not play the drums?). Gibbard announced they’d be performing a cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret,” and I caught Behrenn playing a xylophone shrouded in dark cloths while Gibbard took the solo vocals on the number.
Gibbard, a true gentleman, thanked YACHT for opening before introducing “This Place is a Prison” while the bright golden lights dropped down to a dark red that accentuated Lewis’ onstage costume. Tamborello returned to a mellow melodica playing a lower, somber register, and we all swayed as one. I am aware The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” was on the Garden State soundtrack, but realized during this number that the entire album could easily be a soundtrack for a generation through hopes, loves, losses and memory.
When asked what makes this band so special to its fan, one fan, Lindsey, told me “Everyone I talk to mentions The Postal Service with nostalgia. I remember the first time I heard the album. I was in college. We drove to the beach at midnight. From Portland to Seaside, Oregon. We listened to this album as I fell in love. With the girl and the music. And then it was over. No more albums, no more girl. The album brings me back to a moment I lost.”
After “This Place is a Prison” and its mellifluousness, the band broke into what I can only conclude was a jam instrumental, which seems odd for The Postal Service but here it worked. The heavily instrumental “There’s Never Enough Time” felt three times longer than its album length. Afterward they shifted into a huge, rocking light show with “A Tattered Line of String”, one of two absolutely new songs on GIve Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition). The inclusion of “String” and “Turn Around” are what makes the “reissue” deluxe. Two great songs that hint at a musical future together that Gibbard alludes to when he called out to the audience, “We’ll see you real soon.”
The momentum continued as Tamborello queued the opening notes to “Such Great Heights.” The crowd went wild, people began clapping, singing, and lifting cell phones to shoot shoddy video. Those not shooting closed their eyes and sang along happily before the band segued smoothly into “Natural Anthem” to close the night. Lewis jammed on her guitar with her teeth and played a cassette player into her microphone while strobes flashed across the stage. Nearby a fan shouted “Come back to Phoenix soon, Ben!” Gibbard and crew thanked the 5,000 clapping fans as the song faded out and walked off stage. After a few minutes Jimmy, Ben, Jenny and Laura waved their way back onto stage as we all yelled, “Thank you! Encore!”
Gibbard introduced the band at this point, and moved into a now classic Dntel tune “(This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan.” It was an unexpected, awesome addition to the night that added to the excitement of finally seeing The Postal Service in Arizona. The fervor of Tamborello and Gibbard’s serendipitously creative coupling over a decade ago have changed the way music is made. A local music engineer and fan, Glen, argued that “aside from somewhat piloting a new method of music production, I feel their music kind of made it more ok for mainstream artists to use electronic sounds. Of course there was music already that utilized synthesizers, etc… but not really in mainstream music.”
The Postal Service finished out the evening with “Brand New Colony” with lines that include “everything will change.” These lyrics hint at past nostalgias and allude to a future of not only Postal Service music but also a return to a touring circuit that they left a decade ago.
Set List from Comerica Theatre – April 18, 2013
1. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
2. We Will Become Silhouettes
3. Sleeping In
4. Turn Around
5. Nothing Better
6. Recycled Air
7. Be Still My Heart
8. Clark Gable
9. Our Secret (cover from Beat Happening)
10. This Place is a Prison
11. There’s Never Enough Time
12. A Tattered Line of String
13. Such Great Heights
14. Natural Anthem
15. (This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan
16. Brand New Colony
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