A few days late, but here are my thoughts on The Shins’ show from this past Tuesday in Columbus. Go see them if you get a chance!
Before we get to the music, let’s start with the venue. This was my first time at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, and it gave a great impression. A seat on the lawn in the cool air, under the cloudless sky make for a near-perfect setting. The view was excellent (angled enough to see above those ahead), and the crowd was pleasantly buzzing as they waited for the show.
The first opener was Deep Sea Diver and was far more impressive than the second. They featured a very nice blend of mainly-piano and pure-guitar songs. The lead singer brought a strong-yet-emotive voice that suggests a louder version of Beach House, and the primary guitar was potent as it rode chiming, distorted notes throughout the night. After a bit of post-show research, it seems they stuck to the content off their newest record History Speaks and it came across as quite impressive live (particularly the song “Nwo”). Their overall sound isn’t too far off from Grizzly Bear (although perhaps a bit more spacious-sounding), an impressive comparison to achieve. I’d recommend checking them out if you get a chance.
The second opener was The Antlers. They immediately struck with their outstanding sound quality. Their notes were more deliberate and well-polished than the output from Deep Sea Diver. Unfortunately, the band lacked energy. I’d compare their live work to listening to the band Low: the music is technically impressive and quite mesmerizing, but it’s just not great in a concert setting. There was pretty guitar layering, and strong vocals, but the band simply didn’t have any stage presence. The Antlers make for fine mood music, but they’re entirely unremarkable in person.
The Shins, however, were exceptional.
I had concerns that their subtle style and sometimes-quiet songs wouldn’t work live. Those fears were pushed aside instantly as “Caring is Creepy” opened up with a roar. And the band clearly understood the power of the live setting and chose to hit the high points. Yes, new record Port of Morrow was emphasized, but the setlist was impressively diverse. All of the first three Shins’ records got nearly equal representation and with great results.
The sound quality was great, but more importantly the instrumental balance was pitch-perfect. A good Shins track manages to keep emphasis on James Mercer’s vocals without losing the guitar strums, the drum fills or the keyboard work. This was expertly translated to the live setting. Particularly noteworthy was the use of keyboards/organ; instead of sounding cheesy or forced, everything blended to contribute to an impressive whole.
Noteworthy highlights happened throughout the show. “The Rifle’s Spiral” was outstanding, perhaps surpassing its studio version on Morrow. A hymn-like rendition of “New Slang” breathed new life into the band’s breakthrough track. I personally felt that the high-powered pop tracks off their best record (Chutes Too Narrow) were the best parts (“Mine’s Not a High Horse,” “Kissing the Lipless”), but the crowd reaction was loudest to successful singles “Australia” and “Phantom Limb.”
Perhaps the only drawback to the Shins’ performance was the ending. At the end of the encore, the band performs “One by One All Day,” a good-not-great track from debut album Oh Inverted World. Unfortunately, they then tack a jam-band-esque vamp session on the end of the song. It felt out of place and derailed the positive momentum that would’ve otherwise closed the show.
However, the low-point ending didn’t change my overall impression of the show or the band: the Shins are an impressive indie-pop group and are certainly worth seeing. Add in too interesting openers, and you’ve got a great evening of music. Check them out on tour now.