Review — Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service Transport Fans Across Decades

Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service’s Give Up & Transatlanticism 20th Anniversary Tour sold out three nights at Mission Ballroom this week. The Wednesday night show packed the ballroom with indie-loving millennials prepared to cry for the Death Cab set and dance through their tears during The Postal Service reunion.

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This co-headlining tour was highly anticipated for a multitude of reasons. It’s important to note that Ben Gibbard is the frontman for both of these bands, and it is unprecedented for them to perform together. The Postal Service has not toured in over 10 years so this return to the stage was something fans have craved for a decade. The concept of the tour was for both acts to each play an album in its entirety.

For Death Cab, this was Transatlanticism, originally released October 7, 2003. The Postal Service would perform their only full-length album, Give Up, released February 18, 2003. This lineup made this tour more than an anniversary or reunion: it was a return to an era that defined a generation. Gibbard reflects on 2003 as the most creatively inspired year of his life. For three nights, Denver would get to relive what this era meant to them as they were transported to a time and place that only Gibbard knew the path to. 

After a hypnotic set from the post-punk goddesses Warpaint, Death Cab for Cutie took the stage wearing all black. The show opened with “The New Year,” a song that perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia brimming in the room. This faded into the significantly slower song “Lightness” as fans let the beauty of Gibbard’s voice transport them back to 20 years ago. Death Cab’s bassist Nick Harmer, guitarists and keyboardists Dave Depper and Zac Rae and drummer Jason McGerr illuminated the multi-level stage, the joy and nostalgia emanating from each member palpable. 

Every song struck a nerve. The set alternated between lighter indie-pop style songs like “The Sound of Settling” and genuinely gut-wrenching hymns like “Tiny Vessels.” The mood in the room changed as often as Gibbard changed guitars. The album Transatlanticism is a concept album about the pain of distance between lovers. The listener feels the torment and love simultaneously in not only the lyrics but also the musicianship. Each instrument ached with sorrow and angst, the rhythm section pounding with the echoes of lost loves as the guitars and keys dripped with a strange mixture of hope and regret. 

The band then moved into the album’s titular track. The term “transatlanticism” was coined by Gibbard and refers to “the incomprehensible emotional gap between two lovers separated by comprehensible distances — the continental United States, an entire ocean, or, most likely, just a couple floors in your freshman dorm.”

The song faded into stillness before giving way to “Passenger Seat.” As it came to an end, Gibbard told the crowd “All these songs are things that happened to me with the exception of this next song. This didn’t happen to me” and introduced “Death of an Interior Decorator.” Their set was closed with the final track, “A Lack of Color,” as only Gibbard’s voice, a keyboard and a tambourine filled the room. 

Soon after Death Cab thanked the crowd and left, The Postal Service took the stage in all white, aesthetically distancing themselves from Death Cab. This time Gibbard and Depper were joined by keyboardist Jimmy Tamborello and singer/guitarist Jenny Lewis to perform their only album, Give Up. The two albums of the evening were written by Gibbard and the overlap of themes is undeniable, although the sound is very different. Both are coming-of-age stories that share characters and intertwine metaphors but use completely different colors to paint the picture.

The elements that define The Postal Service are their heavy synth songs with poppy dance anthems weaved in. The slow opening song of “The District Sleeps Alone” was a perfect bridge from the introspective journey fans had just embarked on to the electronic ambiance that was about to begin. It’s another song about how to balance distance with love now bereft of drums and backed by deep, reverberating tones and bright synths.

If there were a time machine set to 2003, “Such Great Heights” would be playing on the ride there. As the song’s iconic opening lines rolled in, the lights grew brighter and the tempo for the rest of the evening steadily increased. Death Cab fans paid a staggering amount to primarily stand still during their set but The Postal Service fans were there to move, dancing and swaying along with each note.

When this tour was announced, some expressed concern for Gibbard’s voice as he pulled double duty fronting both acts but the concern was in vain. His performance in the second half was just as dynamic and melodic as it was earlier in the evening. 

During “This Place is a Prison ” the room shared a moment of collective heartache buried in melancholy rhythms. Gibbard sang into a hollow space with an outstretched hand until his longing was felt by everyone. Fans were mesmerized as he sang from the deepest parts of his gut in one moment and appeared on the drum kit the next. He did this often throughout the set and the transition was always seamless.

The crowd entered an ethereal space during “Brand New Colony. ” Sunny notes contrasted with distortion sang the unconventional love song over nearly 4000 people. The evening could practically be summed up in the moments at the end of this song when Gibbard conducted the crowd’s acapella choir of the lines, “Everything will change.” The bond between fans could be attributed to the fact that these words rang even more true on this night, 20 years after their first listen.

An encore was absolutely demanded and answered as Gibbard reappeared on stage with Lewis to perform an acoustic version of “Such Great Heights.” They turned a pop hit into a story. Lewis’s voice grabbed Gibbard’s and filled the room with warmth, molding the earlier song into something new and unrecognizable. The full band returned to the stage to send fans home with a technicolor cover of “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. The crowd dispersed and reluctantly re-entered 2023 but now ready to dance their way through it.

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