As befits a group that began life not as a flesh-and-blood band but as a pair of friends swapping tracks with one another through the mail, much of the Postal Service’s material has the hermetic headphone feel of songs that were created entirely without the openness of any kind of live performance, even just within the boundaries of a recording studio. But while Wednesday’s show wasn’t necessarily any more organic than the lone album that resulted ten years ago, the band seemed to find a way to expand the headphones to fit the entire Bank Of America Pavilion.
The locked-in programming overseen by Jimmy Tamborello from his computer station was key; the other three musicians mostly played with the intent not of using it as a foundation but of blending in. Ben Gibbard’s familiar croon nestled cozily into the glitchy electro-pop arrangements, and his and Jenny Lewis’s guitars were there mostly to add color, not punch things up.
For the most part, anyway. About halfway through the 75-minute show, the guitars pushed forward for the first time during “Clark Gable,” and as befits one of the great stealth pop songs of the last decade, Gibbard’s guitar poked through “Such Great Heights” like a ray of sunlight on an already cloudless day. And it was his lean arpeggios and Lewis’s drums, rather than the electronics, that guided a graceful cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret.”
But there was little stagnancy even without breaking the plane. “Recycled Air” had its emotions muted but inched forward nonetheless, “This Place Is a Prison” was suffused with a sense of dislocation (thanks in part to Laura Burhenn’s icy keyboards) and “Natural Anthem” transformed from a stacked, rippling collage into subdermal throbbing.
Through it all, Gibbard and Lewis were effective foils, he with his straight-backed twitchery and she with her loose, cooing shimmy. Together, they provided a visual counterpoint to the Postal Service’s music, ordered intellect barely concealing a beating heart. They duetted and danced (to the extent that Gibbard dances) as Tamborello and Burhenn provided accompaniment to show closer “Brand New Colony.” Then Gibbard joined in on drums, Lewis started strumming simple chords and the song became beatific.
With coed harmonies that remained buoyant even when pitched against the melancholy chords of Kori Gardner’s keyboard, openers Mates Of State performed their songs of connubial complexities with a defiant optimism borne of necessity.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.