They walked on stage like art-gallery attendees, little skinny jeans and old button up shirts, curious and quiet. There were six in total, the new lineup after a three-year hiatus, all of whom brought their own little flare to the old Shins songs, and a whole lot of dopeness to the new ones.
Right from the start they were on. James Mercer, my idol and manly soul mate (little does he know), picked up that faded-white Les Paul Jr. and that hushed persona vanished.
“Called to see, if your back was still aligned, and your sheets were growing grass all on the corners of your bed.”
His face grew big on the side monitors (thank you Gibson Amphitheater), his hands moved to make those pretty chords play, and the crowd sang along in frenzied rancor. Well, maybe rancor is strong: we just wanted to have his babies and his genius moments all to ourselves, please.
They played a dazzling set of old and new, from No Way Down to New Slang, with most of my favorites and a couple I’d never heard (or never really listened to) thrown in as well. Mercer’s first smile was during that slow, almost-silent breakdown in Simple Song; his voice went real low like he’s a country western tragedy and his body relaxed, his fingers like water. He was warm the whole night, pleasant words and casual chemistry for a front man of his stature.
- So Says I, they burned the house down with this song. That repeated pause in which Mercer somehow sing-screams wild guitar voice notes, belts his angry fed-up hopeful bullet throw of a noise and then just rocks on into major chords while his band goes and goes.
- Bait and switch, my favorite chorus off the new album in which he sings, “I’m just a simple man cursed with an honest heart, watch her go and tear it all apart.” How a man can speak from my own soul, I don’t know. But I saw him do it, live and with love and like he feels it too, so there must be truth out there somewhere.
- Australia, so how do you make that up, Mercer my brother? “Watching the lantern dim, starved of oxygen, give me your hand and let’s jump out the window.” I really appreciate this song. On many levels. Oh and you jammed it out too, for a while. Thanks.
Their last song was Sleeping Lessons. The room was quiet with the ascending key riff, Mercer came in unobtrusively and we all strained to hear. “And spill it out on the ragged floor,” he then shouted in his cloud-high, unadulterated sparrow song of a voice. The chills, they came again, coating my arms and neck like the cold wind and butterfly love.
Is it too late for a Shins pun? They wobbled, my shins, in the aftermath of such soulful moments. A beautiful night.