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.