Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Shins in Misery

Tonight, we ventured to St. Louis to catch the Shins at the Pageant. It's as if the Shins actually pay attention to those birthday notices on MySpace and purposefully scheduled a gig in Misery just for my birthday (32 in case you're wondering).

The Shins' new album, Wincing the Night Away, is a change of pace for the band, but this is nothing new. Oh, Inverted World, their first album, had this straight-outa-the-bedroom feel in both it's lyrics and production. They made you think of the Beach Boys for the Michael Azerrad set. The album is a sure indie rock classic. The song "New Slang (When You Notice the Stripes)" was a great song before Padme' passed her headphones to the guy from Scrubs. The band then took a drastically different route by producing Chutes too Narrow as a way to showcase front man James Mercer's vocal prowess and the band's potential energy during performance.

With Wincing, the Shins break away again to produce a richly textured pop record that expands their already impressive sound. "Sleeping Lessons" starts off the album with a nod to the first record but builds to some intense guitar chords after a lovely keyboard line that does teach you how to sleep and dream. "Australia" is the mid-tempo gem that would've fit well on Chutes. I actually really love the sub-minute "Pam Berry" that leads into "Phantom Limb". "Phantom Limb", their first single, reminds me of the direction REM took when they had a budget and decided to create beautiful music. "Sea Legs" feels the most-out-of-place track on the record but will surely show up at the climax of some crappy teen/early twenties angst-y romantic comedy. The keyboards continue to dominate this record on "Red Rabbits" as Mercer sings a song that would've fit right next to "New Slang" with Oh's dreamy production. "Turn on Me" reminds me of some of the retro sixties stuff that Yo La Tengo periodically throws out with a richer production value and superior vocals...and lighter guitars. The dark but deeply moving "Black Wave" comes next with its acoustic guitar, drawn-out feedback behind echo-y vocals. The urgently depressing "Split Needles" gives a nod to the Cure with out-of-tune piano lines and a haunting keyboard solo. "Girl Sailor" is the conversation between Mercer and a woman who continually fights all affection only to be left to go it alone in the end. The album closes with the quiet thoughtfulness of a Mercer ballad in the form of "A Comet Appears".

The show Sunday night opened with the first four songs from Wincing. I thought they were going to play the entire album song-for-song until they moved on with the lively "Kissing the Lipless" sans the clapping and "Whoo". The song seemed faster-than usual and absent the usual stop-start feel and isolated guitars. It was a more top-40 version. This contrasted with the openers that were way more rocked out than expected. This was the theme for the night. The Shins' more adult-contemporary songs were more rocking while the more hyped songs from Chutes were cleaned up for Mom and Dad. It wasn't disappointing, it was just a little weird.

Anyway, "New Slang" came along about mid-set - no surprise there. At that point I was afraid the band had blown their load, but they surprised with more rocking versions of material from their first and third albums mostly. "Saint Simon" followed "New Slang" with it's slide guitar and Nashville sound.

The band moved very quickly through the rest of the set, hinting that they were not fond of the 10:30 limit placed on them by the venue. The Pageant is weird this way. They are highly policed. I've never seen so much security at a poppy indie rock show. Bouncers and ushers were constantly controlling the flow between drinking and non-drinking areas by checking id's at an incredible pace. Despite the elevated police-state atmosphere, the venue allowed smoking which surprised us. We had attended a Sufjan Stevens show in the fall, and there was no smoking. The smoking didn't ruin the evening, but it actually made me appreciate Columbia a little.

The band, as mentioned before, sped through the remainder of their set. We skipped out during the encore which has been our MO as we grow older. I at least heard the extended opening to "Pressed in a Book" and hummed it all the way back to the car.

I've seen the Shins three times. The first was in a supporting role for Modest Mouse and was pretty forgettable. Of course, it was almost a year before their first record was released. The second was a fantastic summer show in which I did more than my share of drinking and dancing during an extremely energetic show. Tonight's show fits somewhere in the middle of those two. The band demonstrated their prowess in both performance and songwriting as well as appreciation for their fans. I didn't feel the need to dance, but enjoyed the show regardless.

Happy birthday to me!

No comments: