Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Postal Service and The Divine Fits in Berkeley – A Concert Review

Disappointingly, cameras were not permitted
into the venue (drat!)
     The Postal Service made two appearances at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California this weekend. We were able to attend on Saturday, the second of the two sold out evenings. Joining Postal Service were Baths and Divine Fits.
     Despite any impression that may be gathered from the basketball comparison below, we want to make clear that we enjoyed the performance from The Postal Service. The foursome knew what the crowd wanted, and the band delivered on it. On stage, co-founders Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello were joined by Jenny Lewis and Laura Burhenn. Off-stage, the crowd was disproportionately comprised of a particular age group, namely persons who would have been in their music-formative high school or college years when The Postal Service released its explosive album “Give Up” in 2003. There were attendees who represented other age groups, but the representation was weaker than is the case in our typical concert experience.
     The fans wanted to hear the tracks from “Give Up” and wanted to sing along. Judging from the attitude of the crowd during the show and from the bits of conversations we heard during our walk after the show, people were more than just satisfied. And why not, The Postal Service was engaged to the music and engaging with the crowd. Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis in particular maintained a high level of energy through the fifteen song setlist. The attitude was infectious.

     Turning to comparisons, the first one we want to make is between our two experiences in seeing The Postal Service. The first opportunity was in April of this year – at Coachella. The band was certainly musically “tighter” in Berkeley. The timing went from being very solid in April to being near flawless in July. On the other hand, the Berkeley performance seemed to have less of a rock “edge” than the Coachella performance. In Berkeley the “edge” surfaced with force during “Natural Anthem,” but otherwise showed itself in only very short bursts. In fairness, The Postal Service is not a rock band and rock edginess is not what their fans wanted.
     The other comparison is an analogy that brings in both the Miami Heat championship basketball squad and last night’s middle act –  Divine Fits. The Divine Fits provided the rock edginess for the evening, so the two bands formed a good combination. The combination also seemed appropriate because both bands are “super groups” (that is, formed of members who were or are in other bands which experienced a level of success). In the analogy, Divine Fits represent the Miami Heat as it was intended to be when its three stars were brought together, while The Postal Service is the Miami Heat as it turned out to be.
      When the Heat team was “built” by bringing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together, the vision was a team that required spectators and (more importantly) other teams to spread their attention. With three individuals having the skill to carry the team at “crunch time,” it is important to remain aware of the presence of all three. That’s the Divine Fits. The trio for the band is Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel and Sam Brown (drummer Alex Fischel seems to have been added as a permanent fourth member). No member is the basketball equivalent of James, but particularly with Boeckner and Daniels, it is important to remain aware of the presence of more than one person. Each has a sound he is working to achieve, and achieving the sound often means getting on the floor to manipulate controls for guitar processing or getting on the floor to be in the direct path of the speaker. When he is on keyboards, Brown sometimes stares into the sky, presumably while he concentrates on his music. The three are very serious about their music as individuals, but still work well as a team.
      If there can be a disappointment with a basketball team that has won back-to-back championships, it’s that the focus of the spectators and opponents can (must?) be on a single person, specifically LeBron James. The other Heat players are skilled and appreciated, but James is the focal point. The same applies to The Postal Service. Jimmy Tamborello, Jenny Lewis and Laura Burhenn are appreciated. During the concert, the crowd cheered loudly the first time Tamborello joined in the singing. During the encore, the cheers after Gibbard praised Lewis were so loud and so long that it seemed to embarrass Lewis. But the reality is that Ben Gibbard carries the show. That's not meant as a negative. We highly recommend seeing The Postal Service. The comparison is only meant as our review of what we saw last night. 

Setlist of The Postal Service
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
We Will Become Silhouette
Sleeping In
Turn Around
Nothing Better
Recycled Air
Be Still My Heart
Our Secret (Beat Happening cover)
This Place Is A Prison
There’s Never Enough Time
A Tattered Line of String
Such Great Heights
Natural Anthem


(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
Brand New Colony  

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