March 18, 2007

Shins Take MSG

On Wednesday, March 14 at Madison Square Garden, NYC, James Mercer of the Shins could be heard humbly thanking the crowd for coming, marveling over and over at the number of people sprawled out before him, but not until after a breathtaking, energetic opener of "Sleeping Lessons." The clearly sung line "You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise" set the tone for the show and felt like a statement in defense of going against the grain, even when that grain is the "indie" image, and a timely message to old fans and curious new listeners alike. It also set the stage for some powerful rockouts, classic Shins goodness, and a few surprises.

The set was fairly minimalistic, with hanging strands of simple white lights standing out like makeshift stars. A single spotlight zoomed in on Mercer for calm, evocative performances of "A Comet Appears" and "Pink Bullets". The set was a mix of songs from "Wincing The Night Away" (including, of course, "Phantom Limb"), "Chutes Too Narrow," and "Oh, Inverted World." There was even an encore cover of a song by obscure late-seventies band The Modern Lovers. Openers Viva Voce (a male / female duo who projected folk vibes along with guitar wailing and repeatedly assured the audience that they "don't f*ck around") accompanied them onstage for instrumental work and some singing. The Shins showed off the energy that's only hinted at in their albums by giving some of their well-known classics a harder, faster edge and bouncing around onstage. At the same time, claim-to-fame "New Slang" was softened and slowed down, given an almost-acoustic feel. "Pressed In A Book" was given a momentous, stretched-out beginning and, like "Girl On The Wing," sounded delightfully different from a straight listen off "Oh, Inverted World."

Mercer's interactions with the crowd included the aforementioned endearing, incredulous thanks and an introduction of new Shin Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats. The Shins are also apparently able to marry couples, or at least condone a makeout session and then dedicate "Turn On Me" to the participants. Not overly talkative or stone-faced, Mercer communicated well with the gathered fans, although it was clear that his main focus was on the music.

The only drawback of the show in my opinion was the lack of "Sea Legs" from the new album, which would have fit perfectly as an encore, and someone a few seats down showed agreement by shouting out the song title. Perhaps the more pop-influenced song would have been too much of a departure from the norm too soon.

Still, the Shins proved they can rock, rock a big crowd, and rock with a true integrity and sense of themselves and their work. I'd very much recommend seeing them live!

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