Many of you know the story already. A decade ago, producer/electronic music wizard Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard composed a collection of songs by snail-mailing discs containing their musical ideas back and forth. With contributions from a few others, this resulted in the album Give Up that they released under the band name The Postal Service, in honor how the discs were exchanged.
The album went on to great acclaim, and has by now sold more than 1 million copies. It even has the honor of being the second best-selling album released by the celebrated record label Sub Pop, trailing only Nirvana’s album Bleach.
The music of The Postal Service has come back into popular consciousness thanks to the release of a deluxe 10th anniversary edition of Give Up and a subsequent tour, including a buzzed-about performance at this year’s Coachella.
And thanks, one assumes, to Tamborello’s local connection — he grew up in Santa Barbara — the band made a stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday night. Tamborello and Gibbard were joined on multiple instruments and vocals by the lovely ladies Jenny Lewis, who sang on the original album, and Laura Burhenn.
The audience was treated to the entire Give Up album, with its synth pop vibe somehow sounding both retro and fresh at the same time, nicely enhanced by the mesmerizing LED columns that lit up the stage.
The highlight, of course, was the ultra-catchy “Such Great Heights,” the band’s most beloved song, which came near the end of the main set.
Other high points were the opener, “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” and the Gibbard/Lewis break-up duet “Nothing Better,” which Gibbard introduced by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes things fall apart. There are three sides to every story — here are two of them.”
The band also played two nonalbum cuts from the time of Give Up, “Be Still My Heart” and “There’s Never Enough Time,” plus the newer songs “Turn Around” and “A Tattered Line of String.” There was also a cool cover of “Our Secret” by Beat Happening.
The encore kicked off with the amazing “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” which was the first, pre-Postal Service collaboration between Tamborello and Gibbard, and appeared on Tamborello’s aptly-named Dntel album Life Is Full of Possibilities.
Gibbard was delightfully animated throughout the evening, bouncing as he sang and played guitar, at times dashing over to a real drum set to bash along with the electronic beats. At one point he remarked that, “It’s truly humbling when you guys come out to hear these songs so many years later.”
One imagines that when he and Tamborello were sending disks back and forth by mail, they didn’t expect to be playing those songs to enthusiastic crowds a decade later. But, for our enjoyment, The Postal Service still delivers.
In a head-scratcher, The Postal Service’s performance was preceded by bounce music hip-hop artist Big Freedia, most notable for the three dancers who suggestively shook their booties during the whole set. While it is always interesting to see new things, I say “return to sender” on this one.
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 (Dntel cover)
Brand New Colony
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.