Courtesy of Matt Perko / The Santa Barbara Independent

The Santa Barbara Bowl was transported back to the 2000s Saturday Oct. 14th to celebrate 20 years of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service’s breakthrough albums, “Transatlanticism” and “Give Up.” Fans filled the venue to celebrate the two works and honor two bands with 46 years of activity between them. 

Both groups are fronted by guitarist and vocalist Ben Gibbard, a long-time staple in the indie-rock and indie-pop scenes with his 10 Death Cab for Cutie albums and sole release with The Postal Service. Death cab is known for having a sound that cemented the early emo movement while The Postal Service is more pop based and electronic sounding.  Anticipation was high, and Gibbard had the impressive task of guiding the audience through not one, but two sets.

Fans were eager to travel back two decades, with many donning early 2000s styles and merch displaying black birds tangled in red yarn spread across the Bowl to honor Death Cab for Cutie’s now-iconic album cover. Many also shared the moment by bringing along their children, turning the show into a beautiful multi-generational experience that highlighted the power and longevity of live music. 

Saturday’s show was opened by the band Pedro the Lion, longtime friends of both headliners. Their act perfectly captured the night’s themes of nostalgia and recollection, with songs based on childhood memories and the fleetingness of the present. Lead singer David Bazan guided the audience through stories of his life with charm, wit and humor, blending each track seemingly into the next. 

Pedro the Lion also acknowledged both headlining bands and expressed excitement for the performances to come. “We’re thrilled to be playing with our friends,” Bazan said with a smile. Death Cab for Cutie shared the sentiment later in the night, dedicating the track “We Looked Like Giants” to the openers. “One of the great things about getting older is having friends that span decades” 

Death Cab for Cutie’s performance ironically began with album-opener “The New Year” to introduce a release now two decades old. “So this is the new year / And I don’t feel any different” were the lyrics that started off the band’s set, instantly transporting the crowd back in time.

The band’s last show at the Santa Barbara Bowl was in October of last year, and Gibbard quickly took time to appreciate the venue. “It’s good to be back here at the Santa Barbara Bowl,” Gibbard told the audience. He also awarded the venue with the distinction of being “the highest place in America.” 

“This is a wonderful place,” Gibbard told the crowd. “You guys make Red Rocks look like a Mormon kindergarten.” 

Gibbard made great use of the stage, dashing around with his bright red amp cord and somehow never running out of energy. At the conclusion of Death Cab for Cutie’s playthrough of “Transatlanticism,” Gibbard joked with the crowd. “Give us fifteen minutes, then we’re going to do ‘Give Up.’”

Gibbard made good on his promise, coming back on stage with the band shortly after, donning all white. “This is The Postal Service,” he announced. “We present to you the album ‘Give Up.’” Perhaps the loudest reactions of the night occurred in response to The Postal Service’s first two songs, opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and the group’s most streamed track, “Such Great Heights.”

Courtesy of Discogs

Despite their solo album’s melancholy name, The Postal Service’s set differed greatly from Death Cab for Cutie’s in that it had much more of an electronic, pop-based feel. The dichotomy between the sounds of the two groups offered a wider variety of music to the audience and, despite their differences, both sets were greeted with cheers and enthusiasm from an elated crowd — proving that whatever genre Gibbard tries, his enthusiastic fanbase will follow. Gibbard further showcased his musical skills by taking over the drum kit for three songs in the set’s latter half, all while still providing lead vocals. 

The band also took a moment to dedicate a song to the city of Santa Barbara “for one reason and one reason only” — to honor the birthplace of The Postal Service co-founder James Tamborello. “This city created this person right here,” Gibbard informed the crowd. “And, 20 years ago he changed my fucking life … So here it is, a love song for Santa Barbara.” The band then launched into track “A Brand New Colony.” 

“Thanks for keeping us alive for the last 20 years,” Gibbard said to conclude The Postal Service’s set. An encore included an intimate acoustic version of the single “Such Great Heights,” performed by Gibbard and surprise guest vocalist Jen Wood, who had appeared earlier in the night to perform her piece of the duet “Nothing Better,” drawing much applause. To close out the night, Death Cab for Cutie appeared once again to perform a cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 song, “Enjoy the Silence.” 

But, perhaps the highlight of the night and a moment that truly encapsulated the importance of the bands’ anniversary tour occurred midway into Death Cab for Cutie’s set. A song that initially sounds upbeat and cheerful with its uptempo beat and repetition of “bop bah,” “The Sound of Settling” is lyrically depressing, and Gibbard’s warning that, “Old age is just around the bend” from 20 years ago is now ironic that this point has been reached, with many of their fans now well settled into their adult lives. 

The Postal Service is celebrating its 20th anniversary alongside “Give Up” while Death Cab for Cutie has been a band for an impressive 26 years. Gibbard and these groups have been present in the music industry for decades, and their longevity has made them even more of a force to be reckoned with and admired. Few groups in the indie scene are able to maintain the relevance and cult following that these two have. Saturday’s show at the Santa Barbara Bowl was just another reminder that decades on, they, alongside their devoted fans, are here to stay.