September 20, 2023

The Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie played Madison Square Garden (Night 1)

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of both Transatlanticism and Give Up, Ben Gibbard brings his two biggest records to life in one night with back-to-back rundowns of each classic album.

I'll be the first to admit that I was never a massive fan of either Death Cab for Cutie or the Postal Service. I appreciate and, of course, listen to both bands and spent the majority of my time with both records they came to celebrate on this tour, but while some people fell hard for these records, I always just appreciated them from afar. Even though either of these records never hit me with a tidal force like so many of my friends, the songs still played significant roles in my teenage years and I would safely argue that anyone who was a teenager twenty years ago would agree. The formative feelings that came to be while these albums played in the background was impactful at a pivotal time when interests started swaying from emo and pop-punk to a more sophisticated indie rock (or so I thought) and both bands were vital in that shift. Leading a band dressed in black, Gibbard first took to the stage with Death Cab for Cutie and as the guitar riff cut into the opening of "The New Year," the instant swell of memories began to flood the brain waves. "Title and Registration" was another uplifting moment that saw the band really take shape, Ben's vocals warming up and really hitting their stride. The pop of "Sound of Settling" rippled across the crowd, bringing a euphoric joy and cheer from the audience, the jubilance radiating with the band as well. With little to say between songs, the band was laser-focused on getting through the record with as little variation as possible, playing true to the album down to nearly every detail and pacing as the one fans have adorned for two decades. As the album hit the second half, the band really stretched out with a graceful and moving rendition of the record's title-track, hitting some of the deeper and more introspective parts that came alive with the crowd singing the repetitive "come on" refrain and having it hit home with supreme feelings. The band wonderfully transitioned into the piano ballad "Passenger Seat" that gave Gibbard his best vocal exercise of the night and he nailed it with killer purpose, the crowd responding with impassioned cries of admiration. "We Looked Like Giants," the heaviest number on a relatively somber album, filled the room with waves of sound, livening up the night right before another ballad eased into intermission, allowing for a quick costume change and quick reconfiguration of the stage. Returning in all-white ensembles, Gibbard's once side-project The Postal Service took to the stage to headline the world's most famous arena, something that would've seemed impossible twenty years ago and even recently considering the band never released another album. Even so, from the moment the opening notes to Give Up rang out, the overwhelming response from the crowd proved the band and the album had earned the spot to headline and proceeded to bring back the feelings many have revisited in years. When Jenny Lewis hit the backing vocals and was illuminated on stage during "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," the crowd again erupted with joy, the band's third member taking-in the second biggest response of the night, and from them on she did a wonderful job to balance out Gibbard's otherwise leading performance. Naturally the biggest reaction of the night came with the opening of the band's hit "Such Great Heights," an all-time song for a generation and while, again, it wasn't a song that I had on repeat during my high school days, I know the impact it had on those around me and heard it plenty of times to fully appreciate the power it holds when played live for such a massive crowd. In memory, Give Up has always been an intimate record, one played on headphones, in a bedroom, or soundtracking a quiet drive through the suburbs. It's meaning is deep and incredibly personal, it was never a party record, so to hear it in an arena in front of such a large crowd was such a dramatic way to experience it and really changed the emotional impact it holds. Again keeping the chatter to a minimal, Gibbard did express his shock at being able to play the album in such a historic venue after making it for what they assumed would be around 5,000 people. He then announced "this is a love song" before the band went into "Brand New Colony," another major fan favorite before closing out the night with the album's final track, the building "Natural Anthem." Despite playing all their tracks, the band did return for an encore and while it would've been great to hear additional songs from Death Cab's great discography, they decided to come back and play an acoustic rendition of "Such Great Heights." After such a fun and memorable night, it felt a bit cheap to return only to play a song again when so many other options seemed to be on the table. Luckily, there was a bit of a redemption when Gibbard brought both bands back for a cover of Depeche Mode's classic "Enjoy the Silence." It was a great cover with a rich, full sound, but really made the entire end of the night feel a little out of place, a bit of a damper on an otherwise joyful nostalgia ride to a time when musical moments were first defining times in my life and those are always well worth revisiting.

Death Cab set list:

01 "The New Year"
02 "Lightness"
03 "Title and Registration"
04 "Expo '86"
05 "The Sound of Settling"
06 "Tiny Vessels"
07 "Transatlanticism"
08 "Passenger Seat"
09 "Death of an Interior Decorator"
10 "We Looked Like Giants"
11 "A Lack of Color"

The Postal Service set list:

01 "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight"
02 "Such Great Heights"
03 "Sleeping In"
04 "Nothing Better"
05 "Recycled Air"
06 "Clark Gable"
07 "We Will Become Silhouettes"
08 "This Place Is a Prison"
09 "Brand New Colony"
10 "Natural Anthem"
11 "Such Great Heights" (acoustic)
12 "Enjoy the Silence" [Depeche Mode cover]

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