Kentish Town, London23/04/12
The Shins’ long-awaited return to UK shores has, oddly, felt a little uneasy. After ‘Wincing the Night Away’ pleased and polarised, the member-merry-go-round of last year seems to have clouded the general excitement around the recent release of ‘Port of Morrow’, with the grumbles of the die-hards stubbornly muttering that this isn’t “the real Shins” matching the wider anticipation of a record that’s been almost five years in the making.
It’s a compelling case, with longstanding members Martin Crandall, Dave Hernandez and Jesse Sandoval all leaving (or getting fired, according to the latter) after helping craft and contribute to The Shins’ cult sound – but also marks Mercer’s initial project coming full circle.
Mercer wouldn’t strike anyone as the brutal-kind, especially not the sort to drastically parachute an entirely new line-up in following the last album, but for the lyrical deftness and sentimentality at work in the music, it’s clearly a decision executed with design. The addition of the new members has, initially, given The Shins some of the depth they strived for on ‘Wincing the Night Away’ and, despite Sandoval’s protestations, at what point over the last decade has The Shins not been about James Mercer?
The answer lies in a sold out stint at the HMV Forum and the kind of familial love-in that only The Shins could generate. Tonight is both a confirmation and a vindication for Mercer – that they still carry the ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ cult appeal but also enough intrigue to keep the momentum going. Their status as a band that can find a soft spot with the accuracy of a (pink) bullet has always rung true and after carrying a back catalogue that’s soundtracked countless moments of indie-film contemplation, they’re a band we’ve reached for in both happiness and heartbreak. The expectation now is that it’s not about to change, even if the line-up does.
Unbowed and largely unbothered by the fresh faces, tonight’s set flows effortlessly and easily, the old and new inspiring a lively atmosphere characterised by wide, drunken grins and jigs of genuine contentment.
Opening with ‘Kissing the Lipless’ it’s an easy win and way in after five years away, and an opener that creates an atmosphere of a warm, adopted homecoming from the outset. You can feel the positivity warming the forum, everyone sending their own little heat wave of positivity stagewards, ready for it to be bounced back and giddily reclaimed. It’s a sense of feel-good that’s only slightly diminished by the incompetence of the venue’s sound desk that plagues the first 10 minutes, but it doesn’t take the band long to settle into a rhythm and ease into new material from ‘Port of Morrow’.
The jiving, jangling ‘Bait and Switch’ and the moody perfection of album opener ‘Rifles Spiral’ are fresh injections of melody that, in time, should stand alongside the already cherished tracks. A stripped back ‘New Slang’ is another invitation for the audience to launch into an inclusive intro, the forum now bathed in “oohs” and gabbling chatter that fills the quieter moments. It’s another lovely reminder how much we should value The Shins and a demonstration that some just can’t wait to tell each other.
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 37 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2012