At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Saturday, October 6.
Word to the wise: If you want to catch up with your friend for three hours, don’t do it mid-concert at the Bowl. Don’t get me wrong; I think hanging out with friends and drinking a beer at a show is great fun, especially if everyone is enjoying the music and atmosphere. Just don’t do it in my ear for the entire performance; you’re not that interesting, and your stories aren’t that compelling.
However, in fairness to the quality of the stories incessantly being told by the rude patrons behind us, the competition for “compelling act of the night” was pretty stiff. The Shins put on an excellent 90-minute show that included a wide variety of songs from their three albums. Starting off strong with Wincing the Night Away‘s “Sleeping Lessons,” the band seemed more interested in playing their tunes than chatting up the crowd, moving quickly into “Kissing the Lipless,” “Girl Inform Me,” and “Sea Legs.”
With the artwork from their latest album projected behind them, The Shins maintained their energy throughout the performance, rocking out and periodically prolonging jam sessions during the middle and at the end of songs like “Saint Simon” and “Australia.” “New Slang,” featured prominently in Garden State and widely considered to have catapulted the Portland, Oregon-based band into the popular consciousness, was played to near perfection, with James Mercer’s voice flawlessly caressing the high notes and poignant lyrics. The live show also afforded the opportunity for drummer Jesse Sandoval to accentuate his contribution to the song, providing more backbone and structure to a ditty best known for its bass line and guitar solo. Simply put, it was sublime and perhaps better than the recorded version that inspired Zach Braff to fall for Natalie Portman.
“Pam Berry” and radio hit “Phantom Limb” closed out the set, but the band returned for an encore with “The Past and Pending” and a shockingly excellent cover of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe.” The last two numbers were quintessential Shins tunes-“Know Your Onion!” and “So Says I”-as they blend the quirkiness of the band’s sound with Mercer’s faux-British accent. By the end of the night, those in the pit were really bobbing their heads and the band seemed to be having a great time.
While Mercer and crew never lost touch with their audience, they seemed as intent on performing their songs to near-CD quality as they did on entertaining the crowd. That being said, The Shins managed to achieve the latter while maintaining a truly flawless sound, putting on a show that perfectly illustrated the band’s musical talents.