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Review: Postal Service brings savage sentimentality to Cosmo


He launched his heart at her like an invading army attempting to catapult a boulder over a castle wall.

“I can’t accept that it’s over,” Ben Gibbard sang in a voice soft and edgeless enough to have been manufactured by Nerf. “I will block the door like a goalie tending the net in the third quarter of a tied-game rivalry.”

She swatted it away with the ease of a tennis pro returning a lazy serve.

“You’re getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself,” came Jenny Lewis’ retort. “Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures.”

Then the two met at the center of the stage and danced, she with her back turned to him, rolling her shoulders, he wearing a smile that belied the sad-eyed sentiment of the song in question, “Nothing Better,” a break-up tune where Gibbard pleads for a doctor to crack open his chest and mend that tattered organ that torments him so.

Lyrically, it’s a song suggestive of a Mount Kilimanjaro of tear-stained Kleenex, regrettable voice mail messages and perhaps a restraining order.

Musically, it’s the opposite, buoyant and breathless, propelled by a savage, sharp-elbowed beat and a throbbing undercurrent of bass that worked the body like a masseuse’s probing fingers.

And that’s The Postal Service’s thing: transforming love’s turbulence into something capable of conjuring pools of sweat on the dance floor.

A decade ago, the electronically-enhanced indie pop trio, rounded out by producer-beatsmith Jimmy Tamborello, released their only album, “Give Up,” a surprise hit that sold more than a million copies, an uncommon occurrence for a record issued by an independent label.

They toured for a bit but never got around to releasing another disc, with everyone in the group returning to their main gigs: emotive indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie for Gibbard, co-ed California bohemes Rilo Kiley for Lewis, a Vegas native, and the one-man indietronica of Dntel for Tamborello.

Recently, though, all three, along with a touring keyboardist-background singer, have reunited for a string of sold-out shows that included a packed house Friday at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas .

They received a lusty, exultant response from over joyed crowd members who swished their hips and pogoed up and down to beats as hard as Gibbard’s feelings are fragile.

“You sound like you’ve come to watch a band resurrected from the dead,” Gibbard noted of the audience’s rapturous reaction.

Live, The Postal Service frequently found a groove and stayed there, practically nesting amid the concussive rhythms Tamborello conjured, and as such, songs like “We Will Become Silhouettes” and “Sleeping In” took on a new, more forceful dimension onstage.

If there is a criticism of modern electronic dance music, it’s that it tends to mine but one specific emotion: jubilance.

The Postal Service doesn’t neatly fit into that genre because they mine ’80s New Wave and synth pop and the intricacies of the ’90s’ intelligent dance music scene more than anything associated with contemporary EDM.

This being said, they do succeed in adding a wider range of emotions and a more organic feel to music heavily indebted to machines.

At The Chelsea, there were songs more contemplative in sound and sentiment, like the anesthetizing lull of “Recycled Air,” which numbed the senses like an ice pack left on the skin too long, or minor-key plea “This Place Is A Prison,” with its murky, waterlogged beat.

Toward the end of the latter song, Gibbard climbed behind a drum kit, which he did at several points during the show, and shook the tune awake with a visceral burst of percussion.

There were a number of moments like this, where the group sought to remind everyone that despite the digital pulse and synthetic sheen of most of these songs, they were being played by a flesh-and-blood band.

This was most evident during “Natural Anthem,” a jarring squall of lunging, enveloping sound where Lewis raised a flying-V guitar to her face, looking as if she was playing it with her teeth.

The next song, a cover of Dntel’s “(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” opened with some gentle strains of guitar and Lewis and Gibbard harmonizing sweetly with each other , their intertwined voices a counterpoint to all the bloodless electronics.

And then the beat kicked in, and the song’s pulse began to pound.

“I won’t let you go,” Gibbard sang, to a star-crossed lover, to his bandmates, to the crowd, to the romantic, idealized notion that electronic music can have a heart that beats in time with his own.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.