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Postal Service returns with Merriweather show and new video

June 19, 2013
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Electronic indie pop super-group the Postal Service appeared at Merriweather Post Pavilion Tuesday night with a flawlessly executed and intimate-feeling set. Their appearance at the Columbia amphitheater was part of a reunion tour coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the release of their only full-length album, Give Up. Though rain threatening to derail attendance, the audience crept in slowly as opener Ra Ra Riot began what would be a high-energy and well contrasted opener, and their final supporting set for the tour. Merriweather’s expansive lawn would appear half-full at its peak—signaling a not-magnificent draw, yet outnumbering the venue’s attendance for the previous two nights—Sunday’s Grizzly Bear and the xx show and Monday’s triple billing of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and GWAR. Rainy skies eventually gave way to a few hours of pre-dusk sunshine, with unexpected clear skies and an unseasonably cool temperature making for a relaxed evening at the oft-sweaty summer venue.

The Postal Service would make it immediately clear that their reunion tour is about more than just revisiting an album—the band’s superlative instrumentation and vocal execution on a reunion tour are indicative of a clear dedication to rehearsal and attention to detail.

The band’s ability to avoid the potential snags of reunion tours –without having been on the road together for a decade to boot–provided a more than welcome surprise. Of the talent spread between the group’s members, the evening’s most exciting displays lay in the use of uncommon instruments. Dizzying talk box play on “Recycled Air,” and the brief use of a harmonica by Jenny Lewis, would occupy appropriately noticeable spaces in the dreamy, sentimental canvas of Give Up.

The band’s instrumentation also served to provide new life to tracks otherwise afflicted by the sterility of electronic studio music. Particularly revived by this effect was the new single “A Tattered Line of String,” a video for which was released Tuesday. At the forefront of this revitalization of tracks otherwise normally lacking soul was Ben Gibbard, whose energetic stage presence and clear enthusiasm instilled a new quality to well-known melodies and turns of phrase. However, during the brilliant back and forth of “Nothing Better,” arguably the best breakup song in a generation, Lewis would give Gibbard a run for his money in the enthusiasm category, oozing swagger (yes, swagger, at show by the Postal Service) and grace in the track’s playful back-and-forth.

Between the inevitability of hearing familiar material and the half empty venue, the night took on a surprisingly intimate feeling. Gibbard furthered the cozy atmosphere with effusive praise of the band’s fans, looking back fondly on the group’s last area show at the Black Cat and thanking his audience for making this tour possible by “still loving [Give Up] as much as we do.”

All told, the evening’s surprise weather and on-stage finesse were best described by a line in “Clark Gable,” in which Gibbard muses on an unexpected scenario arising before filming a movie shoot.  “The script called for rain that day,” the song goes, “But it was clear that day, so we faked it.” Thankfully, the band’s attention to detail and refusal to compromise their live sound erased any need for fakery.

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