Spot the tourists. The Shins - making their first U.K. appearance in 4 years - were billed to kick off at approximately 9.30pm but that didn't stop us from arriving almost two hours early, eager to grab a good vantage point for the first of two (instant) sell-out London shows. Experimental Liverpudlian's Clinic, decked out in full surgical ensemble, were entrusted with kissing life into the steadily filling Forum. Their twin-organ art rock constantly battled with the chatter of a restless crowd, with the Highgate Road venue seemingly poised to consume their attempts but 15 years in the business held the foursome in good stead, seeing them through to an impressively professional end.
To say much ado has been made over the fact that James Mercer is now the only original member left in The Shins is an understatement of epic proportions but
that debate is swept tidily away under the carpet as James Mercer and the rest of "The Shins" nonchalantly saunter out to be greeted by a packed house. The twinkle of keys from Richard Swift - a singer/songwriter in his own rite - and the gentle picking of Mercer's Gibson gently prod the expectant crowd into life before exploding into the chorus of 'Kissing The Lipless' from Chutes Too Narrow. Lovers of the Portland-based indie kings 2003 record may have been crossing their fingers that tonight would reveal itself to be a secret edition of ATP's Don't Look Back concerts as the quintet fired straight into 'Mine's Not a High Horse'. The dream would be quickly shattered yet in the least traumatic way possible with Swift, Jessica Dobson (guitar) and Yuuki Matthews (bass - formerly of Crystal Skulls) all stepping forward enthusiastically to add vocals to a reinvigorated version of 'Australia'.
Port of Morrow, the fourth studio album from The Shins and first in five years, was released last week so the current European tour is no coincidence;No doubts about it this is the Port of Morrow tour. It is surprising then that it is not until the fourth song of the night before a recording from the so-called "troubled" album makes an appearance in the form of the quite superb 'Simple Song', a new age Beach Boys tune if ever there was one followed by the hurtling 'Bait and Switch'. A couple more Wincing The Night Away residents pop their heads out to say hello with Mercer's claim to bringing the sunshine with them from across the Atlantic sandwiched in-between before the panicky piano intro to 'The Rifle’s Spiral' pleasantly takes the set somewhere a little more off-centre. Crowd pleaser of the night so far appeared as 'So Says I' but Yuuki Matthews' funky bouncing baby of a bass-line for 'No Way Down' was a personal highlight of the night with the new compositions proving they have just as much right to be there as the older, more mature "classics".
Exiting the Kentish Town tube station earlier, I spotted a poster for All New People* - a play currently running in the Duke of York's theatre in the Westend. Why a sudden diversion off topic you ask? Well All New People is written, directed and stars Zach Braff also director, writer and star of 2004's Garden State. The soundtrack to the quirky indie romcom not only features 'New Slang' but includes a scene directly referencing the The Shins, thus introducing the band to thousands (if not millions) of new fans. Obviously a major fan, I couldn't help wonder if Braff had read through his lines a little more lickety split that night before jumping in a cab, high-tailing it to The Forum in the nick of time.
The absence of Oh,Inverted World inclusions had been noted but was remedied (and then some) at the very end of the set with Mercer and co. playing out with a 'Caring Is Creepy', a gorgeous version of 'New Slang' (making full use of the full vocal talent now at the band's disposal), before ending the "official" set with a Joe Plummer(Modest Mouse drummer)-led 'One By One All Day'.
Throughout the gig one overly enthusiastic chap had consistently chimed for 'September' and surprisingly he was rewarded with Mercer sincerely admitting there was no prior intention to give the b-side to Simple Song an airing that night. Of course as soon as the song was finished the delighted fellow called again for his favourite tune. "There's no pleasing some people" was the Hawaii-born singer's retort before revealing he spent his later school years in London. 'Port of Morrow', a sleepier offering from the new album, was followed by a frantic version of 'Sleeping Lessons', a more than apt closer.
Whatever reasons band-leader James Mercer had for jettisoning 4/5s of the initial line-up, after a performance like that it is difficult to argue with the man. Be it original band members or new, The Shins are back. And boy are they good.
01. Kissing the Lipless (from Chutes Too Narrow)
02. Mine's Not a High Horse (from Chutes Too Narrow)
03. Australia (from Wincing The Night Away)
04. Simple Song (from Port of Morrow)
05. Bait and Switch (from Port of Morrow)
06. Pam Berry (from Wincing The Night Away)
07. Phantom Limb (from Wincing The Night Away)
08. The Rifle’s Spiral (from Port of Morrow)
09. So Says I (from Chutes Too Narrow)
10. Saint Simon (from Chutes Too Narrow)
11. No Way Down (from Port of Morrow)
12. It’s Only Life (from Port of Morrow)
13. Caring Is Creepy (from Oh,Inverted World)
14. New Slang (from Oh,Inverted World)
15. One by One All Day (from Oh,Inverted World)
16. September (from Port of Morrow)
17. Port of Morrow (from Port of Morrow)
18. Sleeping Lessons (from Wincing The Night Away)
*Which I happened to attend on Friday, finding it thoroughly enjoyable!
- Port of Morrow by The Shins is out now and available from all good record stores
- For further tour dates please see the official site here
Official The Shins website