The Shins are bigger than Jesus. At least, that’s how it seemed. A packed collective of eager devotees cheered 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, with 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 is a testament to just how far they’ve come—it was only a year or two ago that they were playing to a much smaller following at the much smaller Irving Plaza. The fans the band has acquired with exposure prove to be just as zealous as those long time devotees. And why not? After two brilliant albums that displayed a modernity of sound alongside classic song-writing, it’s no surprise people are clamoring to hear James Mercer’s hooks.
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; they’ve made it despite their nerdy appearances. It’s a true instance of a band getting its due on the strength of the music. Even now, when the band has more reason than ever to stop and revel in the late-bloom, The Shins avoided overindulgence; choosing instead 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 “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 album versions 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!”.
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. And there were more than a few melodic red-herrings - just 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” allowing the crowd to get out that vital “woohoooOOOoo” with Mercer, stars on the rise. And though everyone including MTV is wetting themselves at 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.