As much as I instinctively bristle at all the "this song will change your life" bullshit fandom that was birthed from the precious loins of Garden State, there is something legitimately magical about the Shins. I think Better Propaganda's short bio puts it best, describing them as keepers of the goddess Gaia's rings of power representing Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and Heart. Um, and they also rock mightily.
Much like Ted Leo, James Mercer has one of those voices that really thrives during a live performance. His diction isn't quite as mushy and you just feel a little more viscerally how powerful his range is. His upper register is clean, clear, and stunning. He was also elusive and un-chatty during last night's show (which I chose to interpret as his being shy and artistically aloof—"everything I have to say I can say through my music"—rather than standoffish or lacking in good concert etiquette), letting keyboardist/guitarist Marty Crandall step up (literally) front and center. Drummer Jesse Sandoval is appealingly effortless behind the set. Listening to Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow all week, I found myself focusing on the impeccable percussion and imagining a flamboyant indie rock showman as the author of those spinal-cord-liquifying beats (a la Sam Fogarino of Interpol). Instead, Sandoval was cool, cool, cool—letting the rhythm shoot from his wrists without much intervention from the rest of his body, yet not sacrificing an ounce of excitement.
The band as a whole seemed maybe a bit cold at the start of the show, but then warmed throughout the set, as they let their (slightly awed) appreciation for the size of the venue and the size of the crowd energize them. They extended the instrumental endings of a few tunes (without descending into guitar wankery), and played a handful of non-album cuts. (Which will perhaps appear on the third album they're promising to write and record after they finish this tour???) Though they came back out for a three or four song encore, their songs are so good and so diamond-sharp—so consistently—there wasn't really that sense of "and now we will really rock out" that encores often yield (like, say, when the Decemberists pull out "The Tain"). They just played a few of the songs that they hadn't gotten around to in the set proper, and finished with, I think, "Gone for Good." Which might have felt like an anticlimax if, like I said, all the previous stuff hadn't been of the exact same (high) caliber.
I found openers The Brunettes adorable, hook-laden, and irresistible, if more than a bit twee, while some folks without hearts took exception to the profusion of hand-claps and finger-snaps in their songs. (For the record, I am of the mind that there can never be too many hand-claps in a pop song!)
One of the more fascinating aspects of last night's show had nothing to do with anything that was happening on stage. There was a collection of people standing in front of me I couldn't take my eyes off. (Well, I couldn't have even if I'd wanted to; they were kind of unavoidably in my line of sight.) There was a slightly pudgy, geeky, tech-support looking guy with a quiet, normal looking girl I'm assuming was his girlfriend on his left. To his right were two girls who, I can only imagine, actually thought they were coming to an Aerosmith show and ended up at the Congress Theater sheerly by chance. Dressed in yards of glitter and sparkles and leftover Mardi Gras beads, wasted out of their gourds, they spent most of the show dancing wildly, doing outlandish pantomime routines, waving their arms around (nearly burning me with their lit cigarettes a couple of times), and complaining loudly that, "NO ONE ELSE IS MOVING! IT'S KIND OF CREEPING ME OUT!" When they weren't doing that, they were teasing Mr. Tech Support with a kind of icy, biting edge that I'm sure instantly flashed him back to the interactions he probably had with other pretty, mean girls throughout middle and high school. I couldn't tell if they all knew each other and had come to the concert together or if they just happened to end up in the same row. It was alternately transfixing, disgusting, depressing, and hilarious to watch.
And, another excellent print to add to the burgeoning collection.