The Shins: It’s Rad To Be Cooler Than God

Able to leap tall buildings...The Shins at Webster Hall

NYC, April 23, 2005

The Shins are bigger than Jesus. At least, that’s what it seemed as a packed collective of eager devotees cheered Kevin Spac–James Mercer as he and his merry bunch of Shins anti-climactically took the stage, picking up their instruments as if in an empty rehearsal room, nothing but egg-crated walls around them. We all know the story–inclusion in little-film-that-couldn’t-but-does and its accompanying soundtrack, placing the band’s sharp vintage-Brit melodies on the minds of its viewers.

That The Shins had to add a third show at New York’s Wester Hall because of two quick sell-outs when only a year or two ago they were playing to a much smaller but devoted following at the tinier Irving Plaza is a testament to just how far they’ve come. The fans the band have acquired with their larger awareness proved to be just as zealous about their band, however, and why not? After two brilliant albums that displayed a modernity of sound but classic integrity of songwriting, it’s no surprise people are clamoring to hear James Mercer’s hooks over and over.

And this, the second night of the three, was supposed to be our celebration of their success. Filling the Jungian hero/anti-hero archetype, the four unassuming lads are inexplicable stars despite their nerdy appearances and studied arrangements–a true instance where a band gets its due recognition on the strength of nothing but the music. Even now, when the band has more reason than ever to stop and revel in the late-bloom their career has taken, The Shins avoided immersing themselves in indulgence; choosing rather to step back and spotlight the songs.

Leaving all between-song banter to Marty Crandall, stationed behind his stack of Hammonds, Mercer led the group through a set encompassing most of their discography. The show was completely devoid of frills–Mercer’s guitar had two tones, distorted and non, and the only sign of decorative stage show was the backlit starscape that glowed behind the comfortable hum of Oh, Inverted World‘s “New Slang.” With a few exceptions, notably a different melody to the chorus of “Mine’s Not A High Horse” and a quicker pace for “Saint Simon” and “Gone For Good,” the band replicated the songs accurately. Crandall’s dexterity supplied the ornamentation to Mercer’s sharp chord-changes, manipulating tones that provided a swirling breeze to cool the sunniness of “One By One All Day” and “Know Your Onion!” (mp3).

And, with promises of a new album around the end of the fall, the band acquiesced and previewed a new song which coolly ascended and descended around a fixed point of 60’s British garage, supplying some flourishes the band have mastered since Chutes Too Narrow (review) and more than a few melodic red-herrings–when you think Mercer’s going right, he pulls a quick left and accelerates into a new passage.

So they walked off into the night, after an encore ending with “So Says I” (mp3) in which we were all able to get out that vital “woohoooOOOoo” with Mercer after the first verse, stars on the rise. And though everyone including MTV is wetting themselves awaiting the opportunity to hype the hell out of the next record, the group insists they’re not rushing it. That would be of disservice to the songs, and if we’ve learned anything from The Shins ascension it’s that they don’t sacrifice those for anything. There wasn’t much to this particular show outside of four guys playing the typical instruments on a stage, and with most other bands that’d be a bad thing. But with The Shins, anything else would be dissatisfactory. We love them for who they are, and pretty soon the rest of the world will too.

10 thoughts on “The Shins: It’s Rad To Be Cooler Than God”

  1. Hear hear!! Saw them at Oxegen (Heineken sponsored festival) last year and they were magnificent.

  2. Nice one. Saw them in Whelan’s in Dublin in April 2004 and they blew the roof off the place. Sold out for a Tuesday night and an unhyped gig. Missed them at Oxegen but am eagerly anticipating their return. New album in Autumn! – Bring it on!

  3. Oh, lucky! Sounds like a great show. But where did the ‘bigger than Jesus’ thing come in? I’m confused. Oh…and was that new track leaked, by any chance? Maybe? Please?

  4. seen them 5 times and will see them any chance i get (as long as they play in a small to medium sized venue). :) thank goodness the world is catching on to the fact that there is so much more than nu-metal, rock/rap, and boy bands. let’s hope it continues.

  5. The bigger than Jesus line has to be a reference to John Lennon saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus in 1966. I was at the show that you reviewed and I also went the night before. The Shins were excellent on both nights. It is somewhat strange to see how many people jumped on board post-Garden State. However, I’m glad to see a deserving band gaining in popularity.

  6. “They suck. New Slang is ok but the rest of their songs are rubish.”

    You’re right. Anyone who comes up with a line like

    “And if you’d ‘a took to me like

    A gull takes to the wind”

    clearly sucks ass. If you’re going to bash a band that’s clearly above your own musical taste, try doing it with at least a little bit of fucking effort. It’s ironic that “rubish” was the most difficult word in your brief retort. Let us know if you made the honor roll when school breaks for summer.

  7. they’re songs are austere, spartan, intolerable, lackluster, obtuse, and they all sound the same. There is that better worpswede?

  8. they’re songs are austere, spartan, intolerable, lackluster, obtuse, and they all sound the same. There is that better worpswede?

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