Late last year, Ben Gibbard was staring down a pair of significant milestones: Death Cab for Cutie’s breakthrough album, Transatlanticism, would be turning 20 in 2023, as would Give Up, the lone full-length that Gibbard and electronic artist Jimmy Tamborello released as The Postal Service. Death Cab’s management suggested separate 20th-anniversary tours, but Gibbard envisioned a two-for-one nostalgia jamboree.
“I was like, ‘People are going to lose their minds if this is one tour,’ ” he recalls. “And I think the initial response and ticket counts were certainly a vindication of my approach.”
Indeed, the Give Up/Transatlanticism joint tour will bring both indie touchstones to arena and theater crowds beginning Sept. 5, with stops at New York’s Madison Square Garden and two hometown gigs at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena among 31 scheduled dates (up from 17 when the tour was announced in December). Gibbard will naturally pull double duty — performing Transatlanticism front-to-back with Death Cab and all of Give Up with Tamborello and Jenny Lewis, who provided backing vocals on six album tracks.
For Gibbard, the tour will revisit the most pivotal year of his career. Death Cab, which formed in 1997, famously came close to breaking up in late 2001 after touring and recording at a breakneck pace. The subsequent downtime gave a then-25-year-old Gibbard the space to craft the foundation of Transatlanticism, as well as work with Tamborello on an indie-pop side project by mailing CD-Rs to each other (hence the name The Postal Service).
“All of a sudden, I found myself with a lot of time to meander creatively,” recalls Gibbard, now 47. “I felt very confident, and maybe a little bit cocky. I could musically wander and explore the space, and it was very fruitful for me.”
Give Up turned into a blog-adored cult classic, while Transatlanticism took Death Cab “from indie-rock popular” to “popular popular,” as Gibbard puts it. Although Give Up peaked at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 and Transatlanticism at No. 97, they’ve earned 1.8 million and 1.1 million equivalent album units, respectively, according to Luminate.
Looking back, Gibbard is grateful that his breakthrough with both albums occurred a half-decade into his career. “We had [already] gone through some very difficult times together, and come out the other end,” he explains. “I can’t say with any certainty that if things were like they are now — a band puts out a three-song EP and is selling out shows and has people putting cameras in their faces — there’s no way we would have survived that.”
While Death Cab was just on the road in support of its 10th album, 2022’s Asphalt Meadows, the upcoming tour will mark The Postal Service’s first concerts in a decade, since Give Up turned 10. For Gibbard, these Postal Service shows will be slightly different — unlike in 2013, Give Up will be played in order, without B-sides or covers — but performing again with Tamborello and Lewis will be just as fulfilling.
“These are two of my best friends, that I get to spend extended time with on this trip,” says Gibbard. “We get to celebrate this record that we made, that became this kind of lauded moment in indie rock — but also, it’s a celebration of our friendship.”