Strip away the camp, the goofy cosmetics and the emotional bombast of '80s synth-pop, and the result would behave something like the Postal Service. The indie supergroup's appearance Tuesday night at the Black Cat felt intimate and guardedly optimistic. In other words, it was too subtle to be a homage to anything from the Reagan era.
Singer-guitarist Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) and beatmaker Jimmy Tamborello (of Dntel) built most of the Postal Service's debut, "Give Up," through the mail, exchanging computer files while in separate cities on the West Coast. On disc, that technological detachment sometimes is obvious, but the pair (joined by singer Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) managed to avoid creating a karaoke-style live show. Abstract films flashed in the background but never overwhelmed the music.
Gibbard, looking boyish in a short-sleeved shirt and school tie, had just enough stage presence to sound honest on sweet-and-catchy songs like "We Will Become Silhouettes" and "Such Great Heights." Their lovers-in-the-sky hooks could survive without any electronic tetherings, but Tamborello's laptop-created blips and rhythms aren't superfluous. The collapsing percussion of "Natural Anthem," for instance, was the night's biggest piece of sonic drama.
There was some melodrama, too. The encore -- a cover of Phil Collins's soundtrack hit "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" -- flirted with the idea that any power ballad can be rescued from history. Backed by clips of Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward snogging and snorkeling, Gibbard and Tamborello protected their indie-rock flanks, turning the song into a slow, lonely lament. Some things, however, just can't be saved by irony.
-- Joe Warminsky