The Postal Service kicked off their two-night run at Barclays Center with a set comprised of the entire Give Up album, a few b-sides, and a cover by "the greatest band that ever lived (Ben Gibbard's words; not mine.)." It was my first time at Barclays, so I'm forewarning you that most of this review will be critiquing the venue.
We emerged from the Atlantic Ave subway station right at the entrance to the the massive building that has always reminded me of a coiled copperhead snake. I'd never seen it from this angle before, and the circular plaza underneath a large oculus created a welcoming, communal vibe. That vibe disappeared as soon as we entered the arena. If the outside is a rusty-scaled serpent, inside is the beast's cavernous belly, with railed staircases forming its skeletal structure. While seeing Phish last year, I'd commented on how MSG's renovations have turned its space into a flowing ocean of fans. Barclays, however, chops the crowd into angular chunks with its stairs, harsh lighting from the rafters illuminating the delineations. It created a sterile, disconnected environment that the Postal Service had a hard time unifying despite their excellent performance.
"Hiya, Brooklyn," Gibbard greeted the audience, taking the stage with bandmate Jimmy Tamborello, and special guests Jenny Lewis and Laura Burhenn. They dove right in with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," with Ben rocking from side to side as he played guitar, and Jimmy's eyes fixed downward on his mixing console and laptop screens. A strange onstage chemistry for sure, but exactly what you'd expect from the band. They segued into "We Will Become Silhouettes," which was probably my favorite of the night. On the record, Jenny Lewis' characters sound detached, troubled with ennui. They don't have much of Lewis' spirit to them. But live, that sultry drawl in her voice came out to play, assuring you she was a whole person, not merely a silhouette with each "We will becooome." Gibbard finished the song at a drumkit on the right of the stage. "Thank you so much for coming to this tiny, little venue to see us play some songs from ten years ago," Ben teased. It hit me during "Sleeping In" how great it was to finally be hearing these songs live from a band that wasn't even in the studio together, but traded tracks back and forth through the mail; hence their name.
I was seated in the lower level, but it seemed like I was a half-mile away. I rarely felt like I was a part of something; just watching from afar. The stage appeared small, swallowed up by the black curtain draped over that side of the arena. Gibbard was clearly having a blast though, dancing to the tunes, including some adorable choreographed moves with Jenny on "Nothing Better." Sadly, it seemed all the dancing was happening onstage. With the rise in popularity of EDM, I would've figured Tamborello's boombastic beats would've caused the floor to go nuts, but I barely saw any movement down there. Preceding "This Place is a Prison," Gibbard offered some advice to budding musicians: "You make a record, then you don't do anything for ten years, and then you end up here at Barclays." But is there really anything to be gained from playing such a large venue without the participation of the crowd? The soaring conclusion to the song should have been met with thousands loudly singing, "What does it take to get a drink in this place?" But it wasn't. Or at least you couldn't hear them. The only time we really felt connected was clapping along to "Such Great Heights," as the acoustics in sports venues generally favor applause.
The band returned for an encore of the song that started it all, "(This is) the Dream of Evan & Chan," from Dntel's Life is Full of Possibilities. Gibbard tried to roust the crowd to repeat "Everything will change," the final line of "Brand New Colony," but even that wasn't the full-bodied experience it would've been at MSG. We can only hope that if they reunite in ten more years, they'll play the Garden. Until then, enjoy tonight. And if you're on the floor, fucking dance.
THE POSTAL SERVICE - 06.14.13 - BARCLAYS CENTER (1 hour, 16 minutes)
SET -The District Sleeps Alone Tonight > We Will Become Silhouettes / Sleeping In / Turn Around / Nothing Better / Recycled Air / Be Still My Heart / Clark Gable / Our Secret / 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 & Chan / Brand New Colony