Angels of wistfulness herald the Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service anniversary tour

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      My girlfriend, who has lived almost 29 years without knowingly listening to a single Death Cab For Cutie song, turns to me when the band takes the stage. 

      “I thought they’d be cooler,” she says—or, rather, yells, as live music and Loop earplugs are impeding her communique. “They look like soft dads.”

      She’s not wrong. While some men in their forties and fifties channel confident sexual energy that earns them the epithet of daddy, Death Cab for Cutie is not that. The musicians on-stage—clad in plain black shirts and pants, frontman Ben Gibbard poured into probably-no-longer-cool skinny jeans—are arguably Seattle’s finest sad boys. They are certainly some of the longest running, having begun peddling depressing songs about love and religion since their first album Something About Airplanes dropped in 1998, when I was a cool four years old.

      The long-time earnestness of their broken-hearted indie hasn’t been cool since The OC was on TV. But these guys are doubtless endearing: noodling through extended breakdowns and shimmying during instrument breaks, they’re a mix of consummate professionals performing for a huge crowd, and indie kids just doin’ their thing in their jam space. 

      Gibbard and the gang are here to play their fourth album Transatlanticism in full. Sitting in the floor seats in Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Stadium—because, for the first four songs, the security guards adamantly try to shush everyone with the temerity to stand up at a rock show—I have to admit this wouldn’t be my first choice for a record to hear live. 

      The ode to long-distance relationships is beautiful—and depressing. But with a six-person band, lush soundscapes, and deceptive complexity, the 11 songs come to vibrant life. 

      There isn’t much banter—though Gibbard does introduce “Death of an Interior Designer” with a wry note. “I write about four things: love, death, the crushing oppressiveness of growing up Catholic, and movies,” says the man once married to Zoey Deschanel (who—not to get distracted—is now with Vancouver-born Property Brothers star Jonathan Scott). “This one’s about a movie.” (Disgraced director Woody Allen’s Interiors, to be precise. In Gibbard’s defence, the album came out in 2003.) That leads into set highlight “We Looked Like Giants,” the stage thrumming with energy as the sharp melody pulses exuberantly against the chiller tracks on either side. 

      After “A Lack of Color” draws the album to a close—a mellow, tender ballad that’s better at rounding out an album than a live show—the band bows, and promises to return in 15 minutes. This only further confuses my girlfriend. 

      “Are they taking an intermission during their set?” she asks. 

      And then, I explain the conceit: Ben Gibbard also fronts The Postal Service, along with musician and producer Jimmy Tamborello, and all-round icon Jenny Lewis. 

      The Postal Service takes the stage in all-white (with Lewis in a diaphanous dress), looking like angels of wistfulness. Since releasing the uber-successful Give Up in 2003, the band has existed more in concept than in practice, last playing live shows on a 10-year anniversary tour in 2014. 

      And yet, here they are, another decade later. The Postal Service’s oeuvre isn’t necessarily more thematically upbeat than Death Cab’s, but it’s certainly more danceable. The indietronica pioneers sound impossibly good live, the buttery vocals accompanying the synths and samples of an album full of daydreams.  

      “Such Great Heights”, predictably, demands a huge singalong from the assembled masses. The lyrical interplay on “Nothing Better” also cements it as a surefire crowd-pleaser, and Gibbard elicits cheers during the three different tracks that see him hop behind the drumkit to bang out the four-on-the-floor percussion that anchors the back half of the album. 

      Once again, “Natural Anthem” ends the set on more of a subdued note. But the cheers bring members of both bands back to the stage for an encore. Fans expecting some classic Death Cab hits wind up disappointed, though: Lewis and Gibbard reappear for their version of Iron & Wine’s acoustic cover of “Such Great Heights” (referential!) before all seven musicians assemble for a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” to round out the show. Unexpected—but, somehow, apt. They play two albums, and nought else: you’ve gotta admire the dedication.