Daytripper: The Postal Service / Death Cab For Cutie / Lauren Mayberry @ Fenway’s MGM Hall, 09/13/2023
Full-album anniversary shows are a fascinating trend. On the one hand, there are virtually no surprises. You know what you’re walking into and what the setlist will be, and you’re there as much for the nostalgia as anything else. On the other hand, nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
Anyone who knows me knows that Transatlanticism is the album that changed my life. I’d never connected with an album on a personal level more than when that came out all the way back in 2003. I, like a lot of 30-somethings, have another 20-year-old piece of art—The OC—to thank for making most of that connection. (And I say that with zero sense of irony or shame.) At 15 years old, I was undoubtedly a Seth Cohen type. Why wouldn’t his favorite band become my favorite band?
There is no album in existence that I know the ins and outs of better than Death Cab’s seminal masterpiece. Every lyric, every subtle guitar flourish, every drum fill ingrained in my skull as if they were inked there by a tattoo artist. My immediate love for this album, of course, then led me to discover, at the behest of a friend, Ben Gibbard’s one-off “side project,” The Postal Service. And what an enigma they turned out to be.
Before we get into all that, I first had the pleasure of catching Lauren Mayberry last night, best known as the frontperson for Scottish indie-pop stars CHVRCHES. To kick the night off, she delivered an impassioned, albeit far too brief, set of songs off her forthcoming debut solo record. She was fully aware of the position she was in, noting how no one had heard any of the material yet except for her bandmates and her mum. The only exception to this rule was a crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer.’ The set ranged from songs you’d expect on a CHVRCHES record to somber piano ballads to frenetic near-punk anthems that should all translate well on a studio recording.
Half an hour later, Death Cab took the stage adorned in all-black attire. The opening chords to ‘The New Year’ hit with a bang, and the crowd erupted, screaming back the words we’ve all undoubtedly been singing to ourselves every January 1st for the last 20 years: ‘So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different…’ Gibbard sang with conviction and aplomb, and it was clear from the getgo that this wasn’t going to be a phoned in anniversary show.
The crowd sang nearly every word as the band ebbed and flowed through Transatlanticism‘s perfect sequence. Deeper cuts like ‘Death of an Interior Decorator’ and ‘Tiny Vessels’ received as much enthusiasm as fan favorites like ‘Title and Registration’ and ‘The Sound of Settling’. In the latter, Gibbard sings, ‘Old age is just around the bend, and I can’t wait to go grey…’ Last night, he sang this with a wry smirk on his face as he looked to his left and his right, seeing his bandmates Nick Harmer and Dave Depper with more greys in their hair than any natural colors. Somehow, this made the prospect of aging slightly less terrifying for yours truly, whose knees are hurting quite a bit this morning after standing at the front row barrier all night (ok, boomer).
But it was, of course, the title track that aptly brought us all – band and crowd – together. A typical set closer/encore for them, the song’s slow build into a rousing chorus of ‘I need you so much closer…’ backed by drummer Jason McGerr and Harmer (on bass) wailing away at their respective instruments is a known highlight, and being among 5,000 other people there for the same purpose, singing the same words, felt extra special.
Whoever made the executive decision to have The Postal Service headline the night made the right call, not that there were any favorites to be picked, with Death Cab being an active, regularly touring artist, there was a sense in the room that seeing The Postal Service in a live setting could likely never happen again, let alone it being a full album performance of their only record, Give Up, which has become so popular over the years that it’s become the second highest selling record in Sub Pop Records history behind only Nirvana’s Bleach. Needless to say, the anticipation was palpable.
Two of the record’s best-known tracks (‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ and ‘Such Great Heights’) kick off the album and thus the set, so the crowd was immediately in the palm of Gibbard’s hands once again. This time, the group – which also included co-founder Jimmy Tamborello, Jenny Lewis, and Death Cab’s own Dave Depper – were decked out in all white, which was a nice contrast aesthetically. Whilst Death Cab largely stuck to playing their record as it was recorded – flawlessly, I might add – The Postal Service allowed for a bit more experimentation. The songs were more full than I remember them being, Lewis’ vocal and guitar embellishments particularly notable, and Gibbard often sang, played guitar, and then hopped back to a drum kit up on the riser without missing a beat. Not that anyone expected otherwise, but the “little indie-electronica record that could” lent itself incredibly well in the live setting, the songs sounding fresher than ever, even after all these years.
When the band reached the penultimate track, ‘Brand New Colony’, Gibbard and Lewis led the crowd in an acapella refrain of the iconic line, ‘Everything will change…’, and as we sang it over and over together, I found myself thinking of the change all of us had endured since both these records came out. Gibbard alone, alongside both his bands, skyrocketed to indie-darling status not long after he recorded those shockingly foreshadowing words. Most of us in the crowd went from teenagers in high school to twenty-somethings entering the ‘real world’, to now thirty-somethings with families and retirement plans, aging right alongside the band. That’s the power of music: songs may be in their recorded state forever, but as you get older, they morph in meaning and function. And the best ones age like a fine wine. It was undeniable last night that both these records aged accordingly.