“Transatlanticism” and “Give Up” — the 2003 albums from Ben Gibbard’s primary band Death Cab for Cutie and his hiatus project the Postal Service, respectively — came out eight months apart, and that one-two punch made it so that millennials of a certain demographic would follow him . . . well, if not into the dark then at least to a “Twilight” soundtrack. So it was easy enough appeasement on Wednesday, when for the second night in a row, a sold-out MGM Music Hall at Fenway played host to both acts playing their breakthrough albums in their entirety.
As a full-time band with eight gold or platinum releases (including “Transatlanticism”) and a No. 1 album, Death Cab were the more seasoned of the two, having grown organically into rock stars over the intervening two decades while shedding the hungry immediacy of the “Transatlanticism” era. But both felt present thanks to the electric charge of album and concert opener “The New Year,” where two-chord hits hung in the air as the drums detached. Throughout the performance, Gibbard anxiously rocked his weight from foot to foot, maintaining his intensity even when he dialed down the volume on “Lightness,” the spidery and unresolved “Tiny Vessels,” and the nervous half-arpeggios and curious, quizzical articulation of “Title and Registration.”
But Death Cab didn’t shy from letting those feelings out. “Expo ‘86″ and “The Sound of Settling” were bright and cathartic, and “We Looked Like Giants” was post-rock in sound if not in structure, with guitars pinging off in every direction to create a wide-open vista. The title track bridged both approaches, slow echoey guitar swishes atop Jason McGerr’s simple drum thumps that gained weight imperceptibly as the song progressed until it had transformed into a huge wash of sound with a wall of flickering lights behind it.
Where Death Cab gave Gibbard’s nervous energy room to expand, it fit within a rigidly bound electronic-pop backdrop for the Postal Service, whose songs had the effect of pieces slotting into place. The smooth twitches of the wide-eyed and careening “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and propulsive boop of “Such Great Heights” set the velocity of the set before the band began fiddling with the knobs. Keyboardist/laptop-ist Jimmy Tamborello inserted subtle interrupters into “Sleeping In,” while Gibbard and singer/guitarist Jenny Lewis added humanity to the warm throb and joyous surrender of “We Will Become Silhouettes.”
By then, Gibbard had started manning a drum kit in the middle of songs, yet another human element that lifted material that was already more emotional than it appeared. McGerr took over toward the end, and Death Cab’s Dave Depper played a squalling, corroded guitar solo as album-ender “Natural Anthem” exploded. It all ended with both bands playing Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” twangy guitars expanding bit by bit as electronic whooshes surrounded them, a glorious exercise in zen maximalism.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
THE POSTAL SERVICE AND DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
With Lauren Mayberry. At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Wednesday