Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Concert Review: The Postal Service in Columbus, Ohio

Anyone who became a fan of The Postal Service in the last 9 years pretty much had to accept the fact that they were never going to see them live. Ben Gibbard was busy with Death Cab For Cutie and his solo work, and Jimmy Tamborello was busy with Dntel, not to even mention sometimes-member Jenny Lewis's schedule. Interviews with Gibbard tended to squash any ideas of a reunion too. But this year, fans finally got what they wanted, and it seemed like the band didn't hate themselves too much for it.

The opener for Columbus was Advance Base, the work of Owen Ashworth from Chicago, Illinois. Advance base does not make bad music, it's just not particularly noteworthy. He managed to make almost everything sound fairly similar, including a Kris Kristofferson cover, and the only time I (and most of the crowd) got truly excited was when he began to play the intro to "Stairway to Heaven," which turned out to be only a tease, and the end of his set. The crowd was respectful at least, and Ashworth seemed able to communicate with them well.

Advance Base
The Postal Service took the stage at just after 9, opening with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and moving on to "We Will Become Silhouettes" and "Sleeping In," which featured Tamborello on vocals for the chorus. All three songs were performed amazingly with high energy.

They moved on to the weaker of the two songs released on the tenth anniversary edition of Give Up, "Turn Around." Despite the song being one of my least favorite Postal Service tracks, the live performance was incredibly well put-together. Jenny Lewis, whose presence and vocals had already been demanding a great deal of attention onstage, came forward to sing the Jen Wood vocal parts on "Nothing Better." The presence of Lewis onstage was incredible throughout the show. She has one of the most electrifying and (if I may say so) sexual stage presences I have ever seen.

Jenny Lewis
Next up was "Recycled Air" followed by two of my favorite Postal Service tracks, "Be Still My Heart" and "Clark Gable," both done impeccably.

They then did a cover of Beat Happening's "Our Secret," which blended well with their material. "This Place is a Prison" was slightly lower-energy than the rest of the set, simply because it's such a slow, sad song, but it worked out. A b-side, "There's Never Enough Time," came next, and then the incredible "A Tattered Line of String," another release from the reissue of Give Up. The crowd seemed pleasantly familiar with the newer song.

Jimmy Tamborello
Ben Gibbard. Photos by Erin Howard
The set closed with "Such Great Heights" and a very excellent live version of "Natural Anthem."

For the encore, the band played "(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," a Dntel song that Gibbard sang on, which began the collaboration between Tamborello and Gibbard, and "Brand New Colony."

The Postal Service put on an amazing show, one of the best live shows I've seen in a while. Their live sound was far more solid than I had expected from an electronic band, and they performed each song almost flawlessly, the vocals harmonizing perfectly, particularly at the close of "Brand New Colony." As contagious as the energy was, so was the happiness that seemed to radiate from the band members onstage.

If you get a chance to check them out during the remainder of this tour, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Emma Hath a Song: "In The Air Tonight"

"In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins is one of those special songs that most people like (or at least tolerate). My personal favorite part is when Collins calls out "and I remember," but I know most people prefer the unique drum machine solo just before the song picks up, toward the close.

In 1979, Collins was going through a divorce from his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli. He went on hiatus from Genesis, and recorded Face Value, an album primarily composed of songs intended to be messages to his ex-wife. The most successful song on Face Value, and arguably of Collins' career, was "In The Air Tonight." The phrase "in the air" was inspired by the lingering tension that Collins felt affected not only him and his wife, but their children. Collins has stated that even he isn't sure exactly what the song is about, but that it concerns the bitter, angry side of a separation [source]. His lyrics (particularly in songs like "Sussudio") are typically written as he sings, and based on what sounds good. "In The Air Tonight" is no exception. Collins responded to a particularly contradictory line, "The first time, the last time//we ever met" by saying:

"I didn't go back to look at the thing and say- 'Now, does this make sense? Because someone's gonna ask me years later.' I just said, 'does that sound good?' [...] Because I'm not very good with words. I mean, although I'm writing lyrics, I'm not very good with words talking. So, I thought, when she hears this she'll know how I feel."

Bertorelli left Collins after having an affair with a painter and decorator, inspiring Phil Collins to perform the song on Top of the Pops with a can of paint and a paintbrush onstage.

The recording of the drums in "In The Air Tonight" is notable. The sound actually came as an accident. Collins was recording drums for "Intruder," a Peter Gabriel solo track, when the reverse talk-back feature (which allows the producers to speak to those in the recording studio) was activated. Engineer Hugh Padgham was so impressed by the sound that he and a friend rewired the sound board so that the reverse talk-back could be used more formally. Later versions of the soundboard were made so that the listen mic could be recorded more easily. To create the sound of "In The Air Tonight," they also used heavily compressed and gated ambient mics. This sound (referred to as "gated drum" or "gated reverb") has become a trademark of Collins' work. When "In The Air Tonight" was released as a single, Atlantic Records asked them to add more drums earlier in the song.

Collins offered "In The Air Tonight" to Genesis, but the other members of the band felt it was "too simple."

This song, in particular the lines "if you were drowning//I would not lend a hand," has developed an urban legend surrounding it, creating several different backstories, none of which are true (although they are all more interesting than the actual story relayed above). This is all despite the fact that Collins himself has described the "drowning" lines as being symbolic, which makes rational sense.

The first story is that Collins watched someone fail to save a drowning person, from a distance too great to help himself. This story sometimes goes so far as to say that Collins hired a private investigator to find the man, and then sang it to him for the first time at a concert with a spotlight on the man. Another story says that Collins watched a man who had raped his wife drown. A third story claims that Collins himself saw a man drowning when he was a child, but couldn't help. These stories are referenced in an Eminem song, "Stan."

"In The Air Tonight" has become an important part of pop culture, beginning as early as 1984, when it was featured in the pilot episode of Miami Vice. Possibly because of that inclusion, it is an important component in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.

It's been featured in a ton of movies and tv shows, including a scene in the series finale of Ashes to Ashes, in which the creator elected to fade the song down early, so the drum bridge didn't distract viewers from the drama of the show.

And that's all that I hath for now!