I had been so lost in the ethereal glitches of Give Up for the past 10 years that it had never really crossed my mind what a Postal Service live gig would be like. Taking in mind the fairly subdued pop-show that Ben Gibbard presents with Death Cab for Cutie‚ and adding in the incredibly delicate nature that Jenny Lewis brings to her band Rilo Kiley‚ I was expecting a fairly modest stage set-up from the band. Thus it was somewhat of a shock when the show started up and it had a vibe somewhat akin to a Black Eyed Peas concert in Tokyo. I suppose it's understandable that things would be somewhat flashy as the gig was in an arena‚ but the massive conglomerate of LCD lighting felt incredibly over-the-top in relation to the music. Add in the unexpected sultriness that Lewis was emitting through her skimpy clothing and erotic dance-moves‚ and you end up with one of the "showiest" performances I've ever attended.
Despite the fact that The Postal Service is a band that most folks in attendance probably listen to lying in their bed with headphones on‚ there was an active reaction to the performance -- at least‚ there was after the initial shock of pageantry wore off. Kicking things off with the album opener‚ "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight‚" the band crept into a tight pocket from the get-go. The greatest welcome surprise was how active Jimmy Tamborello was at his console. I had half-expected him to just press play on most of the tracks‚ but he actually was supplying many of the loops and melody lines organically and in the moment. Along with Gibbard on guitar‚ Lewis on keys‚ and Laura Burhenn on additional backing keys‚ this was quite clearly and officially a "band‚" and it was actually quite a relief to hear the natural creation of music that sounds so clearly designed for studio wizardry. With this Portland concert coming towards the tail-end of a 30-date tour‚ the band was spot-on with each song‚ and you would have never thought that they hadn't performed in a decade.
It seemed everyone in the crowd had a different favorite song they were waiting for‚ although nobody seemed psyched for either of the new tracks. There was a warm Pacific Northwest welcome for the cover of "Our Secret" by Calvin Johnson's old band‚ Beat Happening. One thing's for sure‚ music nerds out here have an encyclopedic knowledge of indie-rock that puts all other competitors to shame. And yeah‚ that means you Williamsburg. There was surely a sense of confusion amongst both the crowd and the band as to whether this was an indie-rock show or an EDM event‚ but in the end it felt like 'rock show' won out. Sure‚ nobody in the stands ever stood up‚ but the general admission floor had at least a fair degree of swaying motion. I found my bliss when "Recycled Air" sounded even more enormously dreamy then I hoped it would be. And despite all fears‚ "Such Great Heights" still sounded great despite all the UPS commercials. The set closed with "Natural Anthem‚" and the booming arena-sized low-end made the drum and bass track sound like the wet dream of a late 90's raver. The highlight of the whole evening came in the two-song encore: first was a crushing take on the Dntel track‚ "The Dream of Evan and Chan" -- the song that created The Postal Service in the first place. Then the evening closed out with "Brand New Colony‚" of which the outro break-beat got heads nodding and hands in the air like no other track of the night. If they had opened the show with this cut‚ it could have spurred on a much more dynamic reaction from the audience over the course of the show. I suppose they'll just have to give that a shot when they reconvene another decade from now. Overall‚ it was a stellar performance from a band that most of us never thought we'd ever get a chance to perform. But it felt like once was enough‚ and until there's a slew of new material I doubt they'll be able to do another arena-sized tour.