Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service Rock Madison Square Garden on 20th Anniversary Tour

Written by on October 9, 2023

Review & Photos by Rob Ferguson

The chance to see indie-rock superstars Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service share the stage only comes around once in a lifetime. Celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the bands’ 2003 albums, Transatlanticism and Give Up respectively, the two groups are touring the U.S and playing both albums in their entirety. I was lucky enough to see their sold-out September 19 show at Madison Square Garden, a seemingly fitting setting for a co-headlining show featuring two bands whose music provided a soundtrack for the 2000’s.

Washington-based Death Cab for Cutie are a cornerstone of the indie rock genre. Founded by Ben Gibbard in 1997, the group slowly but surely built a name for themselves over the 2000’s and 2010’s with a solid discography of heartfelt, well-written guitar pop. Death Cab’s music is defined by Gibbard’s spectacular storytelling skills and a strong ensemble of veteran musicians. When the quintet’s powers combine on the live stage, the product is an irreplaceable musical experience.

The Postal Service, founded in Seattle in 2001, is an indie/electronic side project of Gibbard, who teamed up with established singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis and producer/programmer Jimmy Tamborello (also known by his solo stage name Dntel). The trio’s unique creative process of virtually sending unfinished tracks back and forth until they formed finished products led to the release of their only album in 2003, the critically acclaimed Give Up. Combining Gibbard’s elite songwriting skills, Lewis’s impressive vocals, and Tamborello’s mastery of electronic music production turned out to be a recipe for a truly enjoyable collection of songs that will re-contextualize your entire romantic history. 

After months of anticipation, the concert finally began around 8:00 pm with LA-based quartet Warpaint. The all-girl band set the tone with a short set of shoegaze-inspired indie rock songs. They performed hits old and new like “Love is to Die” and “Krimson,” winning the crowd over as they filtered into their seats. I really liked Warpaint’s music, and when I checked them out after the show I found that they’ve been consistently releasing well-received albums since 2004. I would recommend trying their music to fans of Cigarettes After Sex and Beach House.

Finally, the moment had come that everyone was waiting for: A violin intro played over the speakers which introduced the first track from Death Cab’s Transatlanticism. As the band launched into electric opening track “The New Year,” the crowd was on fire. After the slower songs “Lightness” and “Title and Registration,” “Expo ‘86” and my personal favorite ”The Sound of Settling” kept the energy and excitement flowing.

Tiny Vessels,” a song about starting a relationship you cannot commit yourself to, was a very highlight of the set. The juxtaposition of its soft, slow verses and distortion-heavy chorus cements its classic status on the album. However, it was now time for the eight-minute slow burn of the record’s fan-favorite title track. It’s hard to describe how much this song means to not only myself, but to all listeners of Transatlanticism. The song is a painful embodiment of longing for something you cannot have. As the several-minute-long refrain enveloped the stadium, countless audience members took out their phone flashlights and swayed to the intensifying rhythm guitar and bass. It was a moment I will never forget.

After a few more classics like “Passenger Seat” and “Death of an Interior Decorator,” Gibbard took to the stage alone to perform the last track on the album by himself. “A Lack of Color” is an acoustic hit, often praised for its beautiful lyrics. It takes your heart on a rollercoaster ride through a dying relationship while the narrator desperately pleads for his lover to come home. The album closes with the emotional line, “This is fact not fiction, for the first time in years.”

After a short intermission, the crowd was ecstatic to see The Postal Service in the flesh for the first time since their ten-year anniversary tour in 2013. Give Up is a heavily electronic album, but does not lack any of the emotion contained in Death Cab’s records. Instead, it offers a new perspective from Jenny Lewis. Opening track “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” tells the story of the same strained long-distance relationship which inspired Transatlanticism. Although these songs end on sad notes, they help you learn to move on and appreciate your past.

The second song on the album, “Such Great Heights,” was a smash hit and catapulted the band to the top of the charts upon release. It was the most awaited song from the band of the entire night, and the crowd went crazy for it when it began.

After the idyllic “Sleeping In,” Gibbard and Lewis teamed up for the self-described “he said, she said” dialogue of “Nothing Better.” The duet tells the story of a failing relationship from two perspectives: a male character (Gibbard) who desperately wants to regain the love of his partner who is leaving him, and a female character (Lewis) who will not fall for his tricks and remains steadfast in her reasoning behind the breakup. After the crowd unanimously took the side of Jenny Lewis’s character during the song, Gibbard jokingly remarked, “So that’s how it’s gonna be, New York?”

The band didn’t lose the crowd for a moment as it progressed through the album, and at one point I even received a compliment from the kind woman seated next to me for singing every word to two albums which came out before I was born. During “Clark Gable,” Gibbard surprised those in the crowd who didn’t know he could play the drums when he took to the set and performed an impressive solo. In fact, before Death Cab for Cutie’s formation in 1997, Gibbard was a drummer for several local bands in the West Washington area.

He would then perform another fantastic drum solo with a halftime breakdown during the nuclear apocalypse-based “We Will Become Silhouettes” and another in “This Place is a Prison.” Gibbard’s drumming provided a much-appreciated percussive contrast to the album, which was loaded with Tamborello’s synthesizers and electronic sounds. The band’s set concluded with mostly-instrumental bangers “Brand New Colony” and “Natural Anthem.” 

After the band took their bows and left, they answered the audience’s chants and returned to the stage for an encore. Gibbard and Lewis began by performing a duet version of folk singer Sam Beam’s acoustic “Such Great Heights” remix. Gibbard was such a fan of Beam’s rendition of the song that he states he feels the song now belongs to the singer-songwriter. It was also included on Give Up’s 10 year anniversary re-release and the digital deluxe version of the album.

Gibbard prefaced the last song of the set with “This one’s for the old heads!” before both bands returned to the stage for an ensemble performance of Depeche Mode’s iconic 1989 smash hit, “Enjoy the Silence.” The cover was a perfect ending to a phenomenal show.

For a 20-year anniversary tour, the seasoned performers brought the energy of a group of young rockers just starting out. I’ve listened to these albums countless times over the last five or so years, and they hold an incredible personal meaning to me. Seeing them both performed live in a co-headlining tour is a check off the bucket list and a memory I will never forget. I strongly recommend both bands for anybody looking to try something new and feel their feelings!

 

Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service perform a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”


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