Review: The Shins share splendid show
REVIEW BY GARY CHUN / firstname.lastname@example.org
Not the usual adjective to describe rock concerts, but here, it’s an apt one. The return after close to five years of a re-energized James Mercer and a new backing batch of The Shins was a splendid one. It was a rousing homecoming show for Mercer, who was born here as a “military brat” and whose Hawaii-born wife’s family lives on Oahu.
For those of us who saw the band’s fine, if slightly restrained, showcase gig that was streamed live on YouTube from Coachella Saturday, it still didn’t prepare last night’s audience at the Blaisdell Concert Hall for the newfound power of Mercer’s music as translated on stage by a — well, terrific! — band.
The brilliant rhythm section of bassist Yuuki Matthews and drummer par excellence Joe Plummer, along with the textures provided by guitarist Jessica Dobson and keyboardist Richard Swift, gives a welcome additional oomph to the songs. After the third song into the set, a muscular take on “Simple Song,” the lead single from the new album “Port of Morrow,” the band would hit its stride for the remainder of the evening. The versatile musicians played so well together as a unit, that it was simply cool to watch them click on stage.
Basically all the familiar and beloved hits of The Shins sounded that much better in concert, to the point that after a particularly fine version of one of the new songs, “No Way Down,” Mercer joked that it was like doing “a cover of our own songs,” with an emphasis on the danceable, near-disco, beat.
After things calmed down a bit with a segment that included “Saint Simon” and what Mercer described as “a deep cut,” namely “Sphagnum Esplanade” from the 2002 “Know Your Onion” EP, the band decided to turn up to 11 with a rockin’ “So Says I,” and what felt like an inspired and impromptu change in the setlist.
From there, the band played with a sense of confidence and conciseness. “It’s Only Life” was augmented by fine support vocals by Swift and Dobson. “Caring is Creepy,” from the debut “Oh, Inverted World,” was absolutely majestic, and the other song also featured in the movie “Garden State,” “New Slang” became a high, lonesome singalong with Mercer on acoustic guitar.
A full-throttle “Sleeping Lessons” ended the set, with Mercer returning to play solo on acoustic the encore number “September.” The frontman was relaxed and in fine voice throughout the evening, none moreso than, with the full band back on stage, on the new album’s title track. Mercer gave a particularly emotive vocal to a dramatic song that confronts his mortality, especially in light as the father of two little girls.
The Shins ended with a final encore number that amounted to a wonderful cosmic ride in “One by One All Day,” complete with Swift’s driving synth that egged on Plummer’s great rhythmic pulse.
Tonight’s audience at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center can only hope the band equals its performance from Tuesday. Fine local duo Sing the Body will open for them, and speaking of opening bands, big ups to Stephen Agustin and the Fourth Wall for performing an excellent set on Oahu.
Buoyed by great lyrical imagery and a fine sense of guitar dynamics, Agustin and company are a force to be reckoned with on the local scene. One hopes they’ll do more shows in the future, because word is the band will move to Portland this summer, which, maybe not so coincidentally, is also Mercer’s home.