When The Postal Service released their only album, Give Up, a decade ago in 2003, I was just getting my driver’s license. It quickly became the only album in my car, a fitting choice as its songs lyrically validated everything I felt as an emotional 16-year-old. Regardless of one’s age, so many people are still tied together by Give Up, with many viewing it as a seminal coming of age album or their soundtrack to young love. Ten years later, anyone who didn’t see the band in 2003 is now being offered the first chance to see these songs performed live.
Last night, The Postal Service played their second show in nine years at the Robert Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, where I attended college. I left San Francisco early to beat traffic and paid a visit to the local record store to kill time. I was there alone, browsing the “Used New Arrivals” section (finding a Mikal Cronin LP in there!), and who walked in, but a young man clad in undersized running gear and clear-rimmed glasses: Will Wiesenfeld (Baths)! As I continued on through the record stacks, I asked myself: should I mention to him that after SxSW and Treefort Music Fest this will be my fourth Baths show in less than a month, and thank him for favoriting all of my tweets about it?
Instead, I kept browsing, contemplating the rationale of the mbv LP being sold for $44.95, when Ben Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, Jimmy Tamborello and Laura Burhenn walked into this hole-in-the-wall record store with barely a corner section of records. I remained the only person in the place that wasn’t playing a sold-out show at a 1,800-person concert hall, besides their manager. Needless to say, 16-year-old me was starstruck.
The show itself was more incredible than imagined — infinitely more than an expected plug-and-play, run-around-the-stage-and-dance-type of performance of The Postal Service’s 15-odd songs — if solely due to the level of musicianship its members possess (and which carries over outside their collaboration). Lewis and Gibbard established a strong on-stage connection, riffing off of each other on songs with dual guitar parts like “Recycled Air,” or the playful duet, “Nothing Better.” Gibbard took to playing live drums on “This Place is a Prison,” while Lewis added electric snare on “Sleeping In” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” via a drum pad. Lewis recorded vocal loops before commencing a few songs, and at one point starting screaming into her guitar pickups, charged with the raw energy one might feel while playing in a band that hadn’t been on stage much in the last decade.
The set opened with vertical banks of light, illuminating a diamond shape across the Mondavi Center’s gigantic stage, timed perfectly to “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” The Postal Service went through just about everything they’ve recorded, including the newly released “A Line of Tattered String” and “Turn Around,” as well as superb previously-released B-sides “Be Still My Heart” and “Suddenly Everything Has Changed.” Just to make things more fun, they threw in a cover of Beat Happening’s classic self-titled album’s opener, “Our Secret.”
When The Postal Service exited, I ran through my head the possibilities for their encore, and immediately ruled out one of the few songs they hadn’t played yet, the abstract DNTEL track “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan.” As the crowd applauded, the band returned to stage with a prompt three-part harmony of “ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing off.” Gorgeously amplified by the luxury acoustics of the Mondavi Center, the song was undoubtedly the night’s stand-out performance. “Brand New Colony” concluded the set.
Baths opened the show with a strong set, though it was slightly drowned out by the sheer magnitude of the space it attempted to fill. It was no thing, though, as Wiesenfeld plowed through the set visibly overwhelmed with excitement. In fact, it seemed he was more excited just to see The Postal Service play, rather than even being excited to open for them. Baths will be performing in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall on June 29 with Houses and D33J.