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The Shins w/ Julia Deans

Joe Sheppard



When James Mercer, singer for the US pop-rock quartet the Shins, stretched his weary vocal chords one last time to sing, “Shut out, pimpled and angry / I quietly tied all my guts into knots” – the opening lines to ‘Know Your Onion!’ – I could visualise all the spotty first-years outside, in tears because they had missed out on tickets to an exhilarating show that had sold out earlier that afternoon. And it was sold out for two very good reasons: Because Mercer is writing beautiful songs with some of the most wonderfully complex, original, and catchy melodies since the ’60s; and because the Shins rock these great songs very hard.
Probably too hard, to be honest. Part of what makes ‘Oh, Inverted World’ and ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ so endlessly playable, is their diversity, and attention to subtlety and phrasing. I couldn’t help but feel that the lap steel guitar on the country-esque ‘Gone For Good’ say, or the intimacy required for a song like ‘New Slang’, had been squeezed out to make way for more distortion, shouted vocals, and faster, heavier drums – anything for the temulent masses who can’t function at live shows unless they’re hopping on imaginary pogo-sticks the whole time, or waving their hands in the air with little respect for rhythm.
And so it was the rising tension and impeccable staccato rhythm of the third song, ‘Pressed in a Book’, that gave the fans their licence to rawk for the rest of the show. The biggest applause of the night was fittingly reserved for ‘So Says I’, which, of all Shins songs, best managed to marry those great hooks with a furious spiral of headlong energy.
Perhaps the massive work ethic – 19 sweaty songs! – was due to that fact that it was the Shins’ last show for the tour, and they wanted to go out with a bang. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, with keyboardist Marty Crandall, especially, taking opportunities between songs to plug Hell pizza or crack jokes about the Kiwi vernacular (“Sweet as!” “Tuning [guitars] is not choice!”).
The most entertaining jokes were surreal parody songs; all of a sudden there’d be a cheesy drumbeat, spotlights of all colours, and a warning sung to the audience, reminding everyone to drink water and “Get Pumped!!!”. It all seemed very Tenacious D, this mixture of mirth and melody, so it made perfect sense to see Mr. Jack Black at the Union Hall enjoying the show too.
Opening act Julia Deans seemed to be lost on the younger members of the audience – one punter reported hearing someone in the audience wonder loudly who the “cover” ‘Lydia’ was by (sheesh!) – but the Shins were pitched just right, and I’m glad I got the chance to peel back and know another layer of this rich and very tasty onion, even if others missed out.
Set List:
1. Caring Is Creepy
2. Kissing the Lipless
3. Pressed in a Book
4. When I Goose-Step
5. Turn a Square
6. Pink Bullets
7. Saint Simon
8. “New Song”
9. Girl, Inform Me
10. Mine’s Not a High Horse
11. We Built a Raft and We Floated
12. New Slang
13. Young Pilgrims
14. Strange Powers (by the Magnetic Fields)
15. One By One All Day
16. Gone For Good
17. So Says I
1. Girl on a Wing
2. Know Your Onion!