In a colliding of musical worlds, New Orleans bounce rapper Big Freedia opened for The Postal Service Thursday night at the KeyArena.
Which meant The Postal Service, locally beloved band specializing in the pop subgenre “twee” (the meekest of all subgenres), was preceded by Freedia rapping call-and-response about the joys of performing oral sex on men (Freedia is a gay man who prefers female pronouns while performing), and three lady dancers twerking hard (Google it).
The incongruous, provocative pairing was deliberate. Postal Service leader and Seattle music luminary Ben Gibbard told me in an interview last week, he chose the opener because, “I love Big Freedia’s music and I’m really excited to see how people react to it.”
They did react. In the normally neutral space of KeyArena, audience members were irritated, seemed to be uncomfortable with Freedia’s brand of sexual expression and questioned whether the performance was “real music.”
Men in the stands conspicuously proclaimed their own heterosexuality, and in general the response was uneasy. Workers at food/beer stands confirmed everyone who ordered from them gave the set a negative review.
The lyrics and the bodies on stage seemed to need some complicated reconciling by these unhappy customers — which is drastically overthinking Freedia’s act. Maybe grumblers misunderstood the musical premise of bounce rap, looking for chord changes and intricate storytelling, when it’s really about cutting loose?
The genre isn’t new. The id-driven, regional style crossed over to the mainstream in 1999, with Juvenile’s hit single “Back That Azz Up.” You’d think the crowd would remember the song, since most of the audience members probably danced to it in high school. Alas, that seemed not to be the case.
Musically, the Postal Service set did not disappoint its fans. (In general, concerts at the KeyArena are sounding better these days, less echoey and washed out than in the past.) But it did seem like a music whose moment had passed, given the lack of young people in the half-full stadium, and the fact that the zeitgeist of pop music is reckless and wild, now — Rihanna, “Spring Breakers,” etc. — not careful and contemplative like Gibbard, and bands like The Shins and The Decemberists.
Gibbard prefaced the best song of the night, a cover of the twee classic “Our Secret” (1985), by appealing to hometown bias (and stating a true fact): “One of the greatest bands in the world is from Olympia, Washington — and they’re called Beat Happening.”
It was the second thing that evening he was dead-on about. The first being that the concert pairing was a good idea. Bringing the gay-positive rap party to a straight-leaning indie-pop crowd was challenging without resulting in a mass exodus. All things considered: a success.