The Shins w/St. Lucia
Sunday, April 29
Better than: A Shins concert five years ago.
Halfway through the Shins’ show at Terminal 5 on Sunday, the Portland indie rockers found their groove. Maybe it was the generous clang of cowbell or the strobe lights that ushered in new song “No Way Down,” but it was a moment that recalled a show at Terminal 5 nearly a year ago—one of LCD Soundsystem’s final concerts. There was ass-shaking! At a Shins concert! (Don’t worry, Zach Braff, there was plenty of the awkward white guy bounce, too.)
As has been documented well in full these last few months, the Shins are back—and they’re new. New record (Port of Morrow), new sound, and most of all, new band—a swift swap that revealed that the Shins revolve more around frontman James Mercer’s own whims than he may have let on. While Mercer has grown up (he’s married with two young daughters) and writes “aww”-inducing lines like “I’m just a simple man cursed with an honest heart” (“Bait and Switch”), the Shins sound more like a full-fledged rock band than a Portland twee project these days. Nowhere is that more apparent than in a live setting. (Keep in mind this was at Terminal 5, a big, box-like venue that, to put it kindly, is not exactly known for its sound quality and acoustics.)
Singer-songwriter Richard Swift, who covers mostly keyboard live, serves as a suitable sideman for Mercer, while Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer pummels the shit out of his set when it’s appropriate. At Sunday’s show, a few extended jam sessions—such as final song “One By One All Day”—were laden with feedback and riffing from guitarist Jessica Dobson. Last night saw the addition of Dirty Projectors vocalists Amber Dekle and Amber Coffman, who added a little extra oomph to the harmonies.
While Mercer and his new players are the most ferocious incarnation of the Shins yet (and even using the word “ferocious” to describe the Shins is something), they also seem to understand not to mess with the hits. “New Slang” and “Caring Is Creepy” sounded even dreamier than on Oh, Inverted World. Yet it was “Sleeping Lessons” and “Phantom Limb,” both off 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, that drew some of the biggest cheers from the surprisingly young crowd.
In his lyrical narrative of late, Mercer seems happier now than ever, which comes across on stage. He also seems genuinely surprised that people know about the Shins’ first album since their five-year hiatus—which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and dominated the latter half of Sunday’s show. Mercer gave his best lounge act crooner falsetto for the album’s title track, which felt impossibly moody and cool last night. Finally, coming out alone to start the encore with “September,” Mercer told the crowd that the band could really hear their cheers backstage and that it was “exciting.” Believe it or not, people like you, James Mercer, and that was especially apparent last night.
Critical bias: The Shins are one of those bands that seemed right up my alley but I never got really into them, or at least not as much as I always expected to.
Overheard: “The guy standing next to me is texting Pete Yorn.” “Pete Yorn’s a douche.”
Random notebook dump: No “Know Your Onion!”?