Death Cab For Cutie, Postal Service reach ‘Such Great Heights’ at Ryan Center

Last Saturday, Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service performed at the Ryan Center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of two of their most successful albums, “Transatlanticism” and “Give Up.”

While both Death Cab and The Postal Service are fronted by the same vocalist, Ben Gibbard, the two groups’ sounds are quite different. Death Cab formed in Washington in the late nineties, where the rock music scene had propelled the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to stardom in years prior. 

Having three albums under their belt, Death Cab released “Transatlanticism” in October 2003 to commercial success, often surprising for independent musicians at the time. It reached 97th on the Billboard 200 album chart and eighth on their Independent Albums chart. The album beautifully explores love, often in a yearning and long distance manner, through a dynamic range of sound and emotion, with a brilliant atmospheric presence that envelops the listener throughout.

The Postal Service wrote and recorded their only studio album during a period of turmoil for Death Cab. Gibbard collaborated with electronic musician Dntel in early 2003 by mail to record and produce “Give Up.” Their only album was very successful, reaching 45th on the Billboard 200, third on the Independent Albums chart and it topped the Electronic/Dance albums chart. While conceptually quite similar in theme, “Give Up” approaches it in a drastically different manner. The album relies heavily on samples, synths and drums to create a compelling and complete indie synth-pop experience.

Knowing each band would be performing a complete album left no surprises during the concert, yet both bands brought a great show to the Ryan Center. 

Death Cab opened their performance with “The New Year,” the atmospheric opening track from “Transatlanticism” whose chorus crashes over you with a surging refrain. Lighting and stage design were minimal, limited to a few spotlights for a majority of the show. Even with the somewhat static stage dressing, their performance was dynamic in range, from the soft delivery throughout “Lightness” and the gentle piano piece “Passenger Seat,” to the immense crescendo of the title track “Transatlanticism.” 

While the album itself does this all very well, many of the elements which “Transatlanticism” relies on are difficult to elevate in a live setting. Regardless, the band excelled in sound and presentation throughout the night, making their music feel massive. Their standout song of the night was “We Looked Like Giants,” a song which is a microcosm of everything that Death Cab excels at throughout the album. 

Following a 15-minute intermission, Gibbard returned to the stage to perform “Give Up” with The Postal Service. While Death Cab wore dark colors, The Postal Service had more distinct stage dressing and design. The band wore all white, with the stage lit by light strips running up the back wall, overhanging the stage. The band was spread across two tiers of the stage, with keys and percussion on the second tier.

The Postal Service’s performance transformed their music far more than Death Cab did earlier in the night. While their music sounds quite digital on studio recordings, the band sounded very similar to Two Door Cinema Club throughout the night, leaning heavier into the rock aspects of their sound, creating a more full soundscape. The band played their most popular song, “Such Great Heights,” second in their setlist. To make up for playing their fan-favorite early, the band performed an acoustic folk version of the song to begin their encore. Their highlights throughout the night included “Recycled Air” with its catchy refrain, “Clark Gable,” where Gibbard performed the drums beginning halfway through the song, and their cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” with both bands to conclude their encore.

While I would argue that Death Cab’s album is the better of the two, The Postal Service had the more memorable performance, elevating their album far past studio quality. While Death Cab took an album that was already a strong eight, and performed it at the level of a light nine, The Postal Service took “Give Up,” a strong seven, and performed it at the same level as Death Cab, earlier in the night.

The next concert scheduled at the Ryan Center is NLE Choppa, on Saturday, Oct. 14. Tickets can be purchased from the Ryan Center’s website,