When The Shins released their now-indispensible 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World, they helped to define the nascent sound of indie rock in the new millennium with their irresistible lo-fi power pop. Four albums and over a decade later, James Mercer & co. are a completely different animal. Last night at New Yorks Terminal 5, this new-and-improved incarnation of The Shins showcased themselves not as the cutesy Albuquerque foursome you bonded over with your high school girlfriend, but as a well oiled, well seasoned pop/rock juggernaut.
Fresh off the release of their long-awaited fourth LP, Port of Morrow, the set consisted of a welcoming array of songs that drew from the bands entire catalog. With his distinct high-pitched, pinched vocal, Mercer immediately launched into Caring Is Creepy, the first track off their aforementioned debut LP. But he was only able to get out I think Ill before almost getting drowned out by the raucous approval of the sold out crowd. Mercer kept the classics coming (theyre old enough to have classics, right?) with the infectious Mines Not A High Horse off 2003s Chutes Too Narrow, before breaking out the Port of Morrow highlight, Simple Song. During the songs euphoric climax, Mercer pumped his fist into the air before launching into a raunchy guitar solo.
In fact, the often soft-spoken Mercer was anything but reserved on this particular night, working himself up into such a sweat that he would need a wardrobe change by the end of the set. However, if anyone could have stolen the spotlight from Mercer, it was new lead guitarist Jessica Dobson. Her technique and stage presence were impeccable on tracks like the kick-ass garage punk jam So Says I and the reverb heavy pop gem Bait and Switch.
It was during these newer songs that the bands recently expanded lineup really got a chance to flex their muscles. Augmented to seven members with Haley Dekle and Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, who lent their skills as backing vocalists, the group radiated the precision of a highly trained orchestra, yet never seemed to loose the happy-go-lucky demeanor that makes them so damn exciting in the first place. Its hard to imagine The Shins circa 2003 being able to pull off the ghostly noise rock breakdown on Port of Morrow, or the spacey shoegaze jam session during an extended version of One By One All Day.
The only place where this new roster seemed to act as a hindrance was during fan favorite, New Slang. Here, the normally acoustic ballad was weighed down by a plethora of extraneous instrumentation and an inexplicably slowed down tempo. The result was a song stripped of its earnest singer-songwriter appeal that sounded just like any other downtempo album filler.
Considering how prone they are to roster shake-ups, it might as well be impossible to predict who exactly The Shins will consist of by the time they get around to recording LP 5. But if last night was any indication, I have the distinct feeling that things will always turn out a-ok as long as James Mercer is at the helm.
Photography by Jake Cohen.
Caring is Creepy
Mines Not A High Horse
Bait and Switch
No Way Down
So Says I
Its Only Life
40 Mark Strasse
Port of Morrow
Kissing The Lipless
One By One All Day