Review: The Shins excel at Gibson on the back of more forceful frontman James Mercer
In the previous lineup of jangly indie-rock favorite the Shins, on tours dating back to 2003's Chutes Too Narrow and earlier, the group's vocalist and principle songwriter, James Mercer, always seemed reluctant to play frontman. His reserved presence – stage-left, not center, never moving much – exuded an air of outright apathy.
While the soaring beauty of his simple guitar and wide-ranging vocals were never diminished by that demeanor, the showmanship of the band itself – every other member just as stoic, save for talkative jokester keyboardist Martin Crandall – was always somewhat lacking.
So it's been an absolute pleasure to see Mercer reinvigorated and overtly joyous at recent festival appearances (chiefly Coachella and Bonnaroo) supporting the first Shins disc in five years, Port of Morrow. I expect some of that newfound moxie, which made for a tremendous showing Tuesday night at Gibson Amphitheatre, stems from a decidedly awesome chemistry with his new bandmates.
Those include former Beck guitarist Jessica Dobson, former Crystal Skulls bassist Yuuki Matthews, Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, keyboardist Richard Swift and a touring pedal steel and fiddle player – all immensely talented in their own right.
Indeed, those musicians' indelible vitality seemed to rouse Mercer from the get-go. His voice rang out somewhat strained as he executed a few particularly high notes on the opening two cuts, "Kissing the Lipless" and "Caring Is Creepy," but seemingly spurred on by Dobson's flawlessly played riffs, Swift's flair-filled key flourishes and Plummer's peppy pounding, he soon found his groove, stomping and dancing happily by the third tune, a massively uplifting "Simple Song."