Review: A night with The Postal Service and Kylesa

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Went to see two shows Saturday night by two very different bands, one preserved in amber and one in the midst of lifelong metamorphosis. (Sorry, Blowfly.)

First up was the vanguard indie-pop-goes-digital act: "We are the Postal Service from parts unknown," Ben Gibbard said a few songs into his band's set at LC Pavilion. "Thank you for waiting 10 years." It's been that long since Gibbard, the Death Cab for Cutie frontman, teamed with electronic producer Jimmy Tamborello (a.k.a. Dntel) for a compendium of twee computer love called Give Up. What was conceived as a side project ended up being a landmark. For better or worse, much of the synth-pop cavorting that currently infects indie music can be traced back to teenagers swooning to "Such Great Heights" and "We Become Silhouettes," songs most fans never experienced live because the Postal Service toured sparingly and never reconvened for a second album.

Saturday at the LC, those teens, now monied twentysomethings, got what they've been waiting for. Gibbard and Tamborello, joined by Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis (who sang backup on Give Up) and the Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn, put on the best Postal Service performance imaginable barring some Tron-like arena spectacle. They played the whole album plus a Beat Happening cover and Dntel's "This Is the Dream of Evan and Chan," the Gibbard collaboration that sparked the Postal Service project in the first place. They did so with a killer light show, a wide array of instrumentation and a jovial attitude that suggested they were happy to be there reliving this music after all these years. It would be fair to say Lewis, bouncing like a hip-hop hypeman from time to time, threw her hands in the air and waved them like she cared.

For songs that presumably could have been presented as high-budget karaoke, there was a lot happening on stage. Gibbard and Lewis did lay down their instruments to sing pop-star style now and then, most notably on the cutesy but resonant "Nothing Better"; in moments of reverie, they often grooved to the music in a manner that split the difference between Stop Making Sense and Dirty Dancing. They worked in a surprising number of instruments, though. Gibbard traded his guitar for live drums intermittently; Lewis played electronic percussion and strummed an acoustic at one point; keyboards abounded; Tamborello played melodica from behind his electronics work station and even sang the chorus on "Sleeping In." His productions, too, covered a lot of ground, from airy pop to Bassnectar-heavy textures to skittering drum patterns out of the Ninjatune catalog. They fit a lot into a set that only lasted 75 minutes, encore included.

"We so appreciate the fact that you guys care about this record all these years later," Gibbard said before performing "Such Great Heights" late in the set. His gratitude was believable. This reunion tour is surely a big moneymaker for all involved, but it didn't feel like a cash-in Saturday night. It wasn't overwhelming in the way live music can be, but it was uplifting and laced with delights. And when they sang "Everything will change" through vocoders during the closing "Brand New Colony," it seemed like fulfilled prophecy in a musical ecosystem shaped in the Postal Service's image. Not bad for "kind of an imaginary, fake kind of band."

Kylesa, which played Ace of Cups later that night, is very much a real band - a living organism, even. All those years the Postal Service has been on the shelf, the Savannah sludge-flingers have been out on the road enthralling fans of high-minded heavy stuff, all the while shifting their lineup and sound. The evolution toward double-drummer cacophony, Southern rock swagger and art-school spaciness has been significant enough that a friend who hadn't seen Kylesa for years was slightly perplexed by what they'd become. As a relative metal noob with indie rock sympathies, I was ecstatic to see a band like this.

The effect of the two drummers can't be understated. All I could process at first was how intense it was, relentless sound against immersive projections. At full power, Kylesa sounds humongous. The effect is even more potent when they pull back the rhythmic tumult to lull you into a daze, then bring back the percussion onslaught to shake you awake. They aren't the first band to use this trick, but they use it exceptionally well. Apples to oranges - and, well, duh - but Kylesa made the Postal Service's electronics feel positively flimsy.

That rhythmic power is the glue that holds together Kylesa's many stylistic detours. Saturday's set traversed screamy sludge, monolithic post-hardcore chug, Ozzy-inspired classic rock, riff-driven hardcore, psych noodling straight out of Electric Ladyland and experimental noise (on a rig that included a theremin and an upside-down skateboard with guitar strings strung across its trucks - science!). There was a slight disconnect between Phillip Cope's drill-sergeant holler and Laura Pleasants' mesmerizing psychedelic siren call, as well as between the abrasive older songs and the melodic new material from 2010's Spiral Shadowand the new Ultraviolet. But it all congealed into a whole, same as if you saw Black Flag or Radiohead - and come to think of it, Kylesa could pass as a powerful midway point between those bands. They hit hard; they think big.