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The Shins Live At The Crystal Ballroom

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The Shins played the final date of their recent tour Monday, May 16 at the Crystal Ballroom in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. I gained access to the show at the last minute and attended with a friend, happy to be able to catch them at the end of their tour. I first became acquainted with The Shins through the movie Garden State and had since picked up their two albums, Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World. I loved the music and wanted to see how they stacked up live.

The Shins’ popularity has grown quickly of late, with a definite push from their presence in Garden State. They create upbeat, fun pop songs that burrow into the brain, taking up residence and emerging at the strangest times. There’s a lightness to the sound that’s not always reflected in the lyrics, but that is immensely appealing and very catchy. Chutes Too Narrow, their most recent album, has a particularly light-hearted and playful feel to it at times, though the songs are not fluff pieces, either.

However, there’s a certain lowkey sense to the music that might leave one to wonder what they would be like live—to be curious about just how much energy they might be able to bring to a show. I wondered this myself, having never seen them perform in concert, but I was in no way disappointed with the show Monday night. Perhaps they were particularly pumped up by the fact that this was the final show and that they were back performing in Portland, but The Shins showed up with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, tackling their set without the slightest bit of hesitation.

It started, though, with The Brunettes-a New Zealand band accompanying The Shins on their tour. They proved to be a great fit for The Shins, offering poppy and upbeat music-almost childlike in certain songs. There were times that their music became almost too ideal, bordering on silly, but overall they put on a wonderful performance that was welcomed and cheered by the crowd. Their final, intricate song brought the set to an exhilirating close, setting the stage perfectly, so to speak, for the main course.

And then came The Shins and the crowd went wild, thrilled to have the hometown band on stage. They launched into their set and James Mercer blanketed the eager crowd with his clear and melodic voice, stretching throughout the venue. The audience cheered, clapped, sang along and swayed and pressed themselves against significant others, enraptured by The Shins. No one could mistake this band as anything less than well-loved and surely no one could be surprised that they were a Portland favorite.

The band played a nice mix of songs from both Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World, hitting on their most popular tracks. They ranged from full on, upbeat and raging, energetic songs to a few more subdued, acoustic performances that left the crowd engrossed and entranced, swaying and often touching those nearby. They even found time to sneak in a new song that may end up on the new album they’re going to begin working on now that the current tour has finished. The band joked in between songs and expressed their love for Portland on numerous occasions, claiming that their tours would always start and stop in the city, as this one had. “Portland is the beginning and the end,” they told the crowd, to many enthusiastic and prideful cheers.

The performance never let up and this band, who can come across so gentle and serene on their albums, never once allowed the mood to sink too low. Slow songs were followed up by faster paced, energetic performances that had the crowd clapping and stamping their feet, jumping up and down and singing along. Their chatter in between songs enlivened the audience and they never were anything but gracious and funny and entertaining. It was clear, as well, that they were having fun with the performance, perhaps most obvious when the band broke into a brief and tantalizing cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean before moving back into a song of their own.

By the time the band was bringing The Brunettes on stage to offer them gifts as thanks for their presence on the tour (a blanket, smoked salmon, a sausage and rubber balls-draw your own conclusions) the entire place had an air of intimacy to it, despite the hundreds of people in attendance. There was nothing particularly formal about this show; it was as much a friendly gathering as it was a paid performance. By the end of the night, after the show closed out with a rousing rendition of “Caring Is Creepy,” any questions about just what kind of show The Shins would put on had been answered. They put on a damn good energetic one, and closed out their tour on a high note.

Now for that new record.

(Cross posted at my arts and culture blog, The Between.)

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About Joel Caris

  • You know, the Shins are pretty cool. I had always known about them playing the scenester venues in Seattle (Portland/Seattle, the same thing, cities holding hand) then I saw them here in Seattle the night before the above reviewed concert. . Rough on sound because they sold 5000 tickets where the echo factor in the upper seating was uh, surreal. Those on the floor had it better.

    My sister saw them in Portland also. A smaller ballroom venue. She said it was like night and day.

    The Shins had this one song that had an instrumental break with layered keyboard and guitar abstractions mixed with progressive rhythm changes. Blows my mind. Right there I became convinced that these guys are cool. They have and artistic ability.

    Anyway, keep an eye out for these guys and give them a definate ‘thumbs up”.


  • I heard a song by The Shins on the radio the other day and really dug it. Could it be the one you’re talking about, Douglas?

    Nice job on this review, Joel.

  • Eric, you know, I’m not sure. I actually have never heard a Shins record before. I just saw them. OK, a guest list situation. But that worked as it turned me on to them.