Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he Shins are riding high these days, debuting a few weeks ago with the second best selling album in the entire country with their strong "Wincing the Night Away," and now hitting the theatres in the U.S and abroad.
Not too shabby for a band on an indie label, SubPop, that has gotten some big breaks along the way, particularly thanks to the "Garden State" flick several years ago back.
Does that mean The Sins really are truly ready for prime team? In some, but not all, respects yes based on their sold-out show.
The best aspect of the Portland, Ore.-based group are their songs. At their best, they opt for a bouncy, pop sound - "Phantom Limb," one of the best songs on "Wincing..." is ample evidence of that. The songs can be rather breezy, easy to get into, even though it's not entirely clear what they are even singing about.
The band started by playing the first four songs of "Wincing..." in order, not sounding all that different than the CD, though the vocals of James Mercer had more energy live. They then mainly alternated between "Wincing" and two previous releases.
Toward the end of the regular set, The Shins went for a harder sound, though never really losing sight of the melody, which keeps the show lively. Dave Hernandez on lead guitar and Marty Crandall on keyboards and bass would switch instruments from time to time, and both were up to the task. Jesse Sandoval set a sure-fire beat on drums without overdoing it. A fifth member, Eric Johnson, contributed mainly on guitar, although he also helped out on keyboards.
So where do The Shins fall short? Everything is certainly competent from the earnest singing of Mercer to the playing of the rest of the band. They are an affable, likable bunch and thankfully show zero evidence of any rock star status at all, which isn't at all to say they are boring. In fact, it's refreshing.
But there is no real focal point or core to the group. Mercer and company talk a bit, are appreciative and certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, but there are no real particular high points or an emotional build to the 80-minute show. It's not that The Shins don't deserve their status in this quirky musical playing field of 2006, but they could do a bit more to ensure they remain there.
Portland friends Viva Voce, a duo, opened the show with a set that worked after awhile. Anita Robinson, who also sang backing vocals during a few songs with The Shins, proved to own a better voice than husband Kevin, who played drums and guitar, sometimes in the same song. They worked best when they established a groove.
And speaking of speaking, these guys really need to develop more stage patter. Three times during their set, they said they were Viva Voce from Portland. We heard you the first time, Kevin.