For the better part of a decade, few bands have been as synonymous with American indie rock as The Shins. Arguably the greatest jewel in Sub Pop’s crown throughout the ’00s, The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World released in 2001 won them critical acclaim and cemented their presence as among the world’s premier up-and-coming indie rock bands. The early exposure they received (as evidenced through the horribly overrated film Garden State) and the subsequent success of Chutes Too Narrow in 2003 vaulted The Shins into elite company. A mere week after their third studio album Wincing The Night Away had been released, The Shins had achieved the highest sales numbers and chart position of any Sub Pop artist ever.
With the release of Port of Morrow, The Shins have entered a new era. Apart from James Mercer, The Shins creative force, the bands personnel has undergone a complete change. Gone too are the commitments to Sub Pop as Port of Morrow is the first record to be released by Mercer’s new record label Aural Apothecary via Colombia Records, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
The excitement level to see a band that rarely finds itself in Germany was palpable in the audience’s raucous applause between songs and utterly transfixed state during the performance. I began to wonder if others viewed this show as a right of passage as I did. Like me, surely others had spent the better part of a decade listening to the Shins and had become enamoured with their unmistakable sound and signature songwriting. Whatever the reason, The Shins more than lived up to the lofty expectations of long time fans while undoubtedly wining many new admirers Wednesday night.
The Shins took the stage at Huxleys Neue Welt on Wednesday night and played an impressive set that captivated a seemingly eclectic audience of young hipsters, older rockers and yes, even posers in salmon coloured dress shirts. The presence of posers is regrettably unavoidable with a band that has enjoyed the level of commercial success that The Shins have. If anything, this success is a testament to James Mercer’s uncanny ability to produce countless pop songs of exceptional quality. It is because of this that The Shins are able to evoke such a wide array of feelings from its listeners.
With a predilection for writing lyrics that can be so deep in meaning while also meaning nothing at all, Mercer always seems to pair memorable lyrical content with jangly guitar hooks that all reach their zenith at the right time. It may be formulaic in some respects but after a decade, it still hasn’t gotten old. For acoustic numbers like New Slang Mercer employs the perfect union of vocal harmonization and steady guitar punctuated by lap steel guitar riffs that provide for a certain intimacy. His methods are tried and tested but ultimately it’s the accessibility of Mercer’s songs that have made the Shins as popular and memorable a force as any band on the indie rock landscape.
Wednesday nights performance showcased a meticulous level of professionalism that one would expect from a band with the Shins’ reputation. The band now icluding indie solo genius Richard Swift, Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, Yuuki Matthews of Crystal Skulls and Jessica Dobson was tight throughout the set and despite only playing together for a short time, gave the audience the illusion that they had been together for years. Some standout tracks off the new record included No Way Down, Simple Song and September. These were complimented by New Slang, Caring is Creepy and One By One All Day off Oh, Inverted World. There were of course songs played off Chutes Too Narrow, including Mine’s Not A High Horse, So Says I and Young Pilgrams to mention a few of the many highlights of this thoroughly enjoyable evening.
After being considered by many to be in its’ death throes, The Shins’ sudden resurgence is both well received and well deserved. Let’s just hope we’re not waiting another five years for the next record or to see them live again.