Growing up, The Postal Service existed for me in the same universe as bands like Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, or The Smiths. As integral as their songs were to my budding music nerd-dom, they were unique in that they existed only on record. Just as I would never see Kurt Cobain rip through “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I knew there was no chance of ever seeing Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello perform live together. These were simply the facts, from those innumerable mornings spent driving to high school with Give Up in my CD-drive, straight up to the bands miraculous reunion early this year.
I assure you that I’m not using the word “miraculous” lightly. Before last night, the only other time Gibbard and Tamborello had played NYC was over a decade earlier at the 60o-capacity Bowery Ballroom. To say that the sold out 18,000-capacity Barclays Center is a step up would be a slight understatement. It was a testament to the power of nostalgia, but also Ben Gibbard’s ability to write a damn good pop song. Looking at the duo on stage, with Jenny Lewis in tow, their astonishment at the situation was also palpable. “Thanks for coming to this tiny little venue to hear us play songs we wrote 10 years ago,” Gibbard quipped before launching into “Sleeping In.”
At his day job with Death Cab for Cutie, Gibbard is usually a relatively poised, even stoic presence on stage. Here, he rose to the occasion and commanded the impossibly large room with a surprising flare. Admittedly, there was not a ton of guitar playing to be done on tracks like fan favorite “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” or cutesy Lewis duet, “Nothing Better,” so this freed Gibbard up to dance, run around, and have some remarkably genuine crowd interaction. In fact, in the five minutes it took the band to get through Give Up highlight “We Will Become Silhouettes,” I saw Gibbard smile more times than I did during all three DCFC sets I’ve seen combined. Sensing the band you’re seeing is having a great time is always one of the keys to an awesome live show, and last night only proved to reinforce that rule.
The most welcome surprise came when they decided to dust off “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” the duo’s first ever collaboration which was released in 2002 under Tamborello’s Dntel moniker. There was a sizable swell in the crowd as if everyone was communally saying to themselves, “oh yeah, I remember this song.” They wisely closed their set with Give Up’s most immediate and poppy cut, “Brand New Colony.” While half the audience sported ear-to-ear grins as they bobbed wildly, the other half were mostly couples, who threw their arms around each other on cue as Gibbard crooned impeccably sappy lines like “I’ll be the phonograph that plays your favorite albums back, as you’re lying there, drifting off to sleep.”
When it really comes down to it, anything short of a set consisting solely of Journey covers would have sent me home perfectly content. But last night The Postal Service were able to give something more. As CoS’s Chris Bosman so eloquently put it in his review of the 10th anniversary reissue of Give Up: “we’ve made the Postal Service’s only record a beacon and a buoy, a physical token of nostalgia. For many of us, the intervening decade has served to cut us off from everyone we shared Give Up with, and that makes it uniquely ours.” In this sense, everyone at Barclays Center shared something intimate and close to the heart. We collectively let each other in on a little secret we’ve kept hidden in car stereos, mixtapes, and iPods for a the last ten years. To be able to do that with 18,000 people simultaneously is something altogether astounding. Your move Morrissey.
Photography by Robert Altman
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
We Will Become Silhouettes
Be Still My Heart
Our Secret (Beat Happening cover)
This Place Is A Prison
There’s Never Enough Time
A Tattered Line of String
Such Great Heights
(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
Brand New Colony