During a between-song break during their first-ever live performance at Coachella on Saturday night, singer Ben Gibbard introduced the unit he co-founded with Jimmy Tamborello as “an imaginary band called the Postal Service.” He was acknowledging the group’s unlikely rise, but the reaction to its music was very real, whether delivered by a make-believe band or a platinum artist.
Ten years ago the two made what they thought would be a one-off side project. Gibbard was taking a break from his day job in Death Cab for Cutie, and Tamborello was looking to further examine a sound he’d forged as Dntel with the underground hit “The Dream of Evan and Chan.”
They recorded “Give Up” cheaply, released it through Sub Pop, and gradually the record rose as friends passed it on, as songs started making their way into commercials, as the group’s songs locked into psyches the world over.
The record ended up going platinum, but the Postal Service never recorded a follow-up. They did, however, bow to pressure to celebrate the decade with a festival tour, and if Saturday’s debut, which also featured L.A. singer Jenny Lewis as Gibbard’s vocal foil, is any indication, fests around the world will be singing along with the Postal Service for the summer.
The group translated much of the record as if they’d built it the old-fashioned way, in a practice space: Tamborello worked the beats and sampler, and Gibbard played both guitar and drums. He and Lewis swapped vocals on the gem “Nothing Better,” a song-as-conversation between lovers about the state of their relationship. Bliss arrived when they offered “We Will Become Silhouettes,” and when Tamborello sang his melancholy chorus -- simply, “Don’t wake me, I feel like sleeping in” from “Sleeping In” -- the fans joined in.
The crowd rejoiced too when the opening rhythm to their best known song, “Such Great Heights,” arrived. They’d been waiting a long time for it, and despite Gibbard’s lyrical warning that the message he was delivering would contain “the shrillest highs and the lowest lows,” nobody seemed to mind one bit.
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