BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER The Shins are the consolation prize for people like you and me. We may not get to be Ken or Barbie, the quarterback or the homecoming queen, or for that matter CEO or Anna Nicole, but we do get some
damnpretty music to help us lick our wounds and accept our status as the runner-up in our own lives.
Judging by the way-sold-out Electric Factory on Tuesday night, many, many locals are ready to collect from the Shins, the Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque indie-pop outfit.
“A movie so crass and awkwardly cast, even I could be a star,” sang Shins front man James Mercer on “Pink Bullets” and, no, he wasn’t talking about Garden State, wherein Natalie Portman famously insists the band will change your life. Mostly, that movie changed the Shins’ life, lifting them up from obscurity to hip ubiquity.
“Man, this is so weird going from seeing them play all these small, crappy places in town and now this…,” said the guy behind me, gesturing to the filled-to-capacity, hangar-sized interior of the Electric Factory.
“Yeah, they’re like soccer-mom-big now,” said the girl next to him.
“Like Drew-Barrymore-is-doing-the-drummer big.”
On the band’s three extant records, they employ jangling, Byrdsy guitars and bittersweet ’60s AM radio melodies to create the kind of harmonic melancholia that serves as comforting balm for many in a raw and nervous world.
Unfortunately, the Technicolor bloom of the recordings tends to fade in a live setting, the cleanly drawn lines blur, and the vast open spaces, so dramatic on record, become invitations for crowd chatter – as was the case Tuesday night.
Perhaps sensing they were losing the crowd a bit, the Shins kicked into “New Slang,” also known as “The Garden State Song.” And from then on, it was the Shins’ world, and we were just listening to it: the honky-tonk charm of “Gone for Good,” the waltzing lilt of “Saint Simon,” and the metaphorical amputation blues of “Phantom Limb.”
Returning for an encore, the Shins trotted out a surprisingly tepid version of “Girlfriend” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers but acquitted themselves nicely with a rip-snorting run through “So Says I.”
Like I said, there’s always a consolation prize with these guys. Everybody wins with the Shins.