On a Tuesday night in which big, bouncing booties battled bedroom synth pop for supremacy, there were few losers at the Greek Theatre save for the uptight or boring.
Co-opener Big Freedia, a shockingly charismatic New Orleans party starter with a combo mohawk/pompadour and known for a regional style of gay rap called sissy bounce, set the Greek ablaze -- with the help of three women and their miraculously nimble, and bawdy, butt dancing.
Headliners the Postal Service, a synth pop duo expanded to a foursome, delivered equally nimble melodies nearly as magnetic, if hardly as jiggly. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its only album, “Give Up,” co-founders Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, with the help of touring members Jenny Lewis and Laura Burhenn, played the singalong pop songs ingrained in the brains of a generation of music fans. The first of two nights at the Greek, the Postal Service will return on Wednesday night.
The group, born of a long-distance collaboration in which Gibbard, moonlighting from his band Death Cab for Cutie, and experimental beat producer Tamborello swapped recordings via the mail, brought to life most of “Give Up.”
A record that when released in 2003 became a slow-rising, ubiquitous presence in coffee shops, TV commercials and bedrooms across the country, the sold-out crowd’s response reflected this. Much of the Greek audience joined singers Gibbard and Lewis for both verses and choruses, bringing into the open songs that have rolled around in heads for more than a decade now.
“Don’t wake me, I plan on sleeping in,” sang Gibbard and fans on the pleasures of the dream life in “Sleeping In.” On “We Will Become Silhouettes,” he locked himself in a metaphorical room, an agoraphobic possessing “a cupboard with cans of food, filtered water and pictures of you.”
The beauty of the moment was hearing nearly 6,000 people recite by heart such internal tension, one in which “the outside air will make our cells divide at an alarming rate until our shells can no longer hold all our insides in.”
The challenge, though, was bringing to life a synthetically produced record, one never really intended by its creators to be performed live. The group did so successfully: Tracks originally crafted on hard drives sprung to life through Lewis and Gibbard’s pitch-perfect harmonies and an impressive musical depth.
Multi-instrumentalist Lewis swapped from guitar to keyboard to synthetic drum pad, banging out targeted snare-snaps while Tamborello bounced and squelched out melodies above. The producer, known for his excellent work as Dntel, offered Vocoder harmonies, blew contrasting melodies with dub-inspired melodica runs, and added deep bass tones when necessary.
Gibbard jumped instruments, too. On the glorious love song “Such Great Heights,” in fact, he started on a Fender electric guitar, singing and strumming, then dropped his hand to roll out a keyboard melody, then moved mid-song to his drum kit, where he closed with live rhythms.
Such maneuvering was necessary, though. Gibbard, while an excellent singer and lyricist, isn’t the most charismatic frontman. The best live vocalists bring with them an edge, some sense of unpredictability. If not necessarily through danger per se, nice people with sweet voices and few dance moves must demand attention somehow, and Gibbard isn’t the kind of guy willing to do that. Did he hit his notes? Yes. Was he gracious? Indeed. Will anyone be talking about his onstage antics or dance moves? Certainly not.
Leave that to Big Freedia, purveyor of a brand of music born in New Orleans called bounce. Handpicked by the Postal Service to open the tour, Big Freedia and his crew play a repetitive, frantic brand of hip-hop called bounce music that draws from regional varietals, including Miami bass and Detroit booty-tech.
Bounce in Freedia’s hands is the perfect platform for twerkin’, a dance style best described as rhythmic, in-your-face butt gymnastics. While heavy-bass tracks poured from the system, Freedia’s three dancers performed African-dance inspired maneuvers that were as freaky as they were impressive, moving left and right rumps in unison, rotating clockwise then reversing, their hot-pink shorts fluttering with the beat.
Freedia barked out party jams, commanded call-and-response action (Freedia: "Excuse?!!" Crowd: "I don't mean to be rude!") and occasionally blessed us with his own stellar twerkin’.
Also on the bill was Los Angeles producer, singer and songwriter Baths, the pseudonym of Will Wiesenfeld. Performing tracks from his two solo albums, the singer offered confessional, if slight, synth pop. Needless to say, it was no match for the freakiness or nostalgic joy to follow.
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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit