Way back in 2001, The Shins released their debut album ‘Oh, Inverted World’ to critical acclaim, ushering in a new wave of indie pop. At the time, mainstream music was dominated by pop and R&B. Jennifer Lopez, Shaggy, Destiny’s Child and the like dominated the charts – rock music was only represented by quick radio friendly singles (think Lifehouse’s ‘Hanging By A Moment’). Seemingly out nowhere, a new type of music was emerging. The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Hives were breaking through to the main stream and getting radio play. The Shins helped in this indie/garage rock revival, but on a different plane. Their album was mellow and full of harmonious lyrics, evoking a different sound than virtually all of their contemporaries.
Over the past ten years, the band’s sound has evolved into a full power pop rock band. The Shins are essentially the work of James Mercer, who provides the lead vocals and guitar, as well as the brunt of the creative work. The band on stage on at Terminal 5 was assembled almost specifically for this tour, save for drummer Joe Plumer of Modest Mouse who has been playing with Mercer for the past few years. The results are mostly positive – it’s hard to imagine the four piece from Albuquerque, New Mexico banging out some of their newer tracks like ‘Simple Song’ and ‘Port Of Morrow’ with such authority. The new additions allow these songs to sound even bigger than they do on the album. Many of the tracks pushed into the realm of psychedelia, manifesting jams that would be unimaginable on one of the band’s earlier albums, specifically some Doors-esque keyboard solos.
Unfortunately, this did have an effect on some of older songs in the band’s repertoire. The Shins first two albums have a very crisp, studio sound, that would seem hard to replicate live. For the most part, they did a pretty good job. Save for some issues with Terminal 5′s acoustics, it was almost surprising how well the new band replicated those old, simple, pop songs. On some, like ‘New Slang’, arguably their most famous track due to it’s exposure on the ‘Garden State’ soundtrack that was carried around by every high school girl back in 2004, it seemed like the band forced more on the composition. Many of these early songs thrive on their simplicity. Every note, every lyric, seems perfectly placed. To re-arrange the tracks for a larger band undoes a lot of what made the songs so special to begin with.
The loudest ovation was heard for ‘Simple Song’, the first single of their new album ‘Port Of Morrow’. Amid a backdrop of the albums cover art, the band showed why this new line up was necessary. It is almost unbelievable that this is what The Shins have become. To last over a decade, a band needs to be constantly evolving and The Shins have mastered the process. Their sound is new and modern, while still evoking the characteristics that brought them to prominence. On a side note, the video for ‘Simple Song’ is truly a modern classic. It is one of those rare videos that tell a unique story, using the song as a soundtrack rather than a vehicle.
After three sold out nights, it is safe to give The Shins positive remarks for their performances. It is almost eerie to see these songs performed in front of an audience that is jam packed from wall to wall; it’s supposed to be indie-pop chill out music. It’s the music you put on in high school while you did your homework, or put onto a mix tape to impress some girl. In a sense, that could be the only complaint of the night. Terminal 5 is just not an appropriate venue for this band. This music is not meant to be listened to shoulder to shoulder, squashed like a sardine in a can of sweaty people. It’s music to be enjoyed in a coffee shop or in a park. But I guess at this point in The Shins career, we must settle on what we can get.