Frank YangThough generally referred to as a reunion, the return this year of The Postal Service to active duty is unlike most others in that it’s to mark a very specific occasion – the 10th anniversary and reissue of their only album Give Up – and comes with absolutely no promise or expectation of carrying on after the occasion is past. And as much as people might think they want a second Postal Service record, I suspect that the truth is they don’t.
Much of the magic of Give Up is that it exists as a single specific point in space and time, and not just as the album where indie, emo, and electronica converged and created a template for countless artists to follow. It’s also special because it was the soundtrack for so many lives in 2003, and by not releasing a follow-up or even having The Postal Service really exist outside of the recordings, remained a snapshot of a moment trapped in amber. No one grew up with this band, or risked being disappointed by a subsequent effort that didn’t make them feel the way Give Up did. And by that same token, it’s a safe bet that no one who piled into the Air Canada Centre a decade later to finally hear these songs played live were remotely the same person they were when they fell in love with the band. And yet they came – not in nearly enough number to fill the theatre-configured arena, but enough to create a time-warped sense of community fuelled by excitement and nostalgia.
It would have been pretty funny and entertaining had Toronto drawn the Big Freedia card in the opening band rotation – the looks on passers by’s faces as they were introduced to the Sissy Bounce when she played Yonge-Dundas at NXNE 2010 is a fond memory – but I was more than happy to get Mates Of State’s first date of the tour. I hadn’t seen them since they kicked off Virgin Fest 2009, and while it’s unfortunate that there were about as many people on hand to see them this time as then – which is to say not a lot – they still put on a wholly enjoyable set, at least after getting over the shock of them playing as a four-piece, though there’s no denying that the extra dimension added by the supporting keys and guitar sounded nice, particularly the trumpet on “Rearrange Us” and “My Only Offer”. But the heart of Mates Of State remain Kori Gardner and Jason Hammell’s keys-and-drums-and-harmonies-and-adorableness, and though their recent work isn’t quite as sugar-giddy as the early stuff, it’s still got plenty of sweetness and remains delightful. I mean, how can you not love banter like, “That’s Kori, isn’t she hot?”. You can’t.
Given that The Postal Service didn’t even record Give Up as a proper band – their name refers to how Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello traded musical ideas via physical DAT – getting a guy on a laptop and another on guitar to translate live in as large a venue as an arena was surely no small task. So to fill things out, they promoted Jenny Lewis from backing vocalist to almost co-frontperson with guitar and keyboard duties, and enlisted Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds on glock and vox – certainly a fine ensemble, augmented by an acoustic drum kit on the stage for those moments when canned beats just wouldn’t do. And as to the problem of having only two sides of material to draw from, they naturally played the whole of Give Up, opening with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, as well as the four new/unreleased tracks from the anniversary edition, a Beat Happening cover, and the proto-Postal Dntel track “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” – making for a respectable-length set, all things considered.
So that was the what it was; what about the how it was? In all, pretty good. They certainly did all they could to make it a visually engaging show, with Gibbard dipping into his Death Cab dance moves, Lewis strutting around like she owned the stage – and really, she did, in front of some slickly-lit stage sets and glowing backdrops. And even though he was restricted to his podium at the back of the stage dropping beats, Tamborello got to contribute vocals to “Sleeping In” – not great vocals, but whatever – and again Daft Punk vocoder-styled at the end of “Recycled Air”. The showiness of the performance worked on the upbeat numbers, but for my personal Give Up high point – the Ben Gibbard-Jen Wood duet “Nothing Better” – it felt to its detriment and out of character. On record, the singalong melody belies the dark sentiments of the lyrics, and the whole feels like a incredibly personal conversation you can’t help be eavesdrop in. Live though, with Lewis’ big sassy vocals in place of Wood’s weary originals, it felt more like a work of broad theatre rather than the intimate moment it should have been. This may be my complaint alone, but there it is.
Still, one down point amongst many high points isn’t bad at all. High points like Lewis’ big rock guitar solo to close out “This Place Is A Prison”, the nearly-deafening shoegaze treatment of “Natural Anthem” to close out the main set, the being reminded that the simple guitar line in “Such Great Heights” may well be one of the riffs of the century so far. By the time the show’s hour and fifteen running time was up, it was clear that this wasn’t a reunion meant to help you recapture your youth, or wherever you were in 2003 the first time you first heard “District” or “Heights”; it was intended to celebrate where you’ve gone in the ten years that have followed. Not for nothing, I think, was “Brand New Colony” the show closer and the final lyrics uttered, “Everything will change”. Because you can’t go back, but you can remember.
The Toronto Star, Huffington Post, and Exclaim also have reviews of the show, and The Toronto Star also has a show previewing interview.
Photos: The Postal Service, Mates Of State @ The Air Canada Centre – June 11, 2013
MP3: The Postal Service – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
MP3: The Postal Service – “Such Great Heights”
MP3: Dntel – “(This Is) The Dream Of Evan And Chan”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Palomino”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Maracas”
MP3: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Think Long”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Hoarding It For Home”
Video: The Postal Service – “Against All Odds”
Video: The Postal Service – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
Video: The Postal Service – “Such Great Heights”
Video: The Postal Service – “We Will Become Silhouettes”
Video: Mates Of State – “Unless I’m Led”
Video: Mates Of State – “Palomino”
Video: Mates Of State – “Sway”
Video: Mates Of State – “Maracas”
Video: Mates Of State – “True Love Will Find You In The End”
Video: Mates Of State – “I Am A Scientist”
Video: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
Video: Mates Of State – “Get Better”
Video: Mates Of State – “Like U Crazy”
Video: Mates Of State – “Fraud In The 80s”
Video: Mates Of State – “Goods (All In Your Head)”
Video: Mates Of State – “Fluke”
Video: Mates Of State – “Gotta Get A Problem”
NPR has an interview and a Tiny Desk Concert with The National, who are at Yonge-Dundas Square for a free show tomorrow night, June 14. The Globe & Mail also has an interview with Matt Berninger.
Nylon is streaming Beach Day’s debut album Trip Trap Attack ahead of its release next Tuesday. As mentioned earlier this week, Beach Day are all over NXNE, playing Urban Outfitters Friday afternoon at 2, Handlebar Saturday night at 11, and a Kops instore Sunday at 6:30.
Stream: Beach Day / Trip Trap Attack
Kurt Vile has released a new video from Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze. He and his Violators play the final day of TURF at Garrison Common on July 4.
Video: Kurt Vile – “KV Crimes”
Neko Case has confirmed details of her new new album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, due out September 3. The first M Ward-powered taste is available to stream, there’s a sweet trailer to watch, and further details can be had at Pitchfork. She also plays the Toronto Urban Roots Fest at Garrison Common on July 4.
Stream: Neko Case – “Man”
Trailer: Neko Case / The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The Village Voice talks to Yo La Tengo about the imminent closing of their Hoboken home away from home, Maxwell’s; The Province and Denver Post also have features. They’re here for TURF on July 4 as well.
PopMatters and NPR talk to Jason Isbell, in town at Lee’s Palace on August 2.
Beatroute has a quick word with Superchunk, whose new record I Hate Music is out August 20.
Stereogum has a video session with Wild Nothing. They open up for Local Natives at The Kool Haus on September 21.
Billboard gets some more info from Janelle Monáe about her new album The Electric Lady, coming in September.
Tiny Mix Tapes has an interview with Charles Bradley.
Dungeonesse have a new video from Dungeonesse; it is not called “Dungeonesse”.
Video: Dungeonesse – “Nightlight”
Sharon Van Etten has released a stream of a new old song, originally released as part of a compilation CD for Esopus magazine in 2010.
Stream: Sharon Van Etten – “Esao Andrews”
Tiny Mix Tapes gets to know Caitlin Rose.
The National Post talks NXNE with Calexico; they were here last night.
And a couple noteworthy show announcements that missed yesterday’s cutoff – first, Blonde Redhead may not have the follow-up to 2010’s Penny Sparkle ready for release until early 2014, but they’re still doing some touring this year. They’ll be at The Adelaide Music Hall on July 15, tickets $22.50 in advance.
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Here Sometimes”
And also, Riot Fest announced their 2013 lineup last night, and it’s a doozy. We’ll ignore the August 24 acts for the moment because I have no idea who any of them are, but Sunday, August 25 will be headlined by the first Replacements show in 22 years. That’s right – Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson back together again as The Mats. And if that wasn’t worth your $50 ticket, the lineup ALSO includes Iggy & The Stooges, The Weakerthans, Rocket From The Crypt, Dinosaur Jr, Best Coast, and more. That goes down at, of course, Garrison Common. The Replacements, people. The Replacements.
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Night Windows”
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
Video: The Replacements – “Bastards Of Young”
Video: Iggy & The Stooges – “Search & Destroy”
Video: Rocket From The Crypt – “On A Rope”
Video: Best Coast – “When I’m With You”