The Shins @ The Hordern Pavilion
One of the most exciting days in the life of a young muso is when as an adult, you see live finally, the favourite band of your teens. Like say, for instance, The Shins. Yes they seemed to write the soundtrack of our younger romantic entanglements; Chutes Too Narrow hit much too close to home. It’s always interesting to hear how artists collate their tracks into a fluent set list: the mixture of songs from across the span of an entire career, and thus a collection of different emotions, themes and stages of musical development.
So there we were at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney staring across the sea of bobbing heads at the perpetually bearded James Mercer. Indie pop gigs bring in strange crowds. The who’s who of the Sydney music scene i.e. Nathan Jolly, editor of The Music Network, plus a smattering of pixie-cut hipsters and bespectacled indie kids still confused about their change of fortune (we are not the predominant subculture anymore?). The venue proved too large for an indie band. It feels as though it’s a disservice to place acts like Husky and The Shins in such a large space. The intimacy of songs played on acoustic guitars is forsaken for the sake of a larger audience, although this at least is directly proportional to perceived fame. Mounting fame is no doubt a positive thing for a band with this kind of talent. The amount of people gathered was huge, although not enough to pack out a venue designed for over 5000 people. Luckily the sound quality remained high, reverberating around the venue. Still one was obliged to crane their neck to see over the couples and dancing indies. Erratic arm movements and stamping accompanied songs with more than a tinge of melancholy. In the school of ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ irony, morose lyrics are paired with incessantly upbeat melodies. It’s difficult to resist letting your inner imp out.
Husky’s set was short but made it clear why the Australian group are a part of Sub Pop’s stellar line-up. Their debut Forever So has seen them tour Australia and woo every audience. When we went to their headlining show a few months ago, we loved every minute of it. It felt strange however to see such a large amount of people gathered around a relatively new group. The stage just seemed so far away no matter how much closer we crept, cans crushed underfoot.
The Shins opened their set with the first track from Chutes Too Narrow, ‘Kissing the Lipless.’ Off to a roaring start, the songs that drew the largest squeals from the crowd were from the following album Wincing the Night Away. Their music has, in some ways, developed. The sound has become darker to better reflect the melancholy of the lyrics. But the lyrics too have changed and adapted. They’ve changed to better reflect the verse-chorus-verse-chorus form; no longer is each chorus accompanied by different words. Rather the intelligent Mercer has honed his ability to craft a pop song. His voice almost replicates produced versions, although at times he chose to sing in a lower octave, rather than add the full force of his vocal range and power to some of our favourites on Chutes Too Narrow and Oh Inverted World. What was most appealing about the show was the way his charisma was on display, even with limited banter: his words having a fuller impact when he was illuminated by the light, timed perfectly with each chord. Each riff and harmony sent an appreciative surge through the crowd.
Singles from all four of The Shins’ releases were played with, of course, particular stress upon their latest LP, Port of Morrow. Think ‘Simple Song,’ ‘It’s Only Life’ and ‘The Rifle’s Spiral.’ These kings (and queen) of quirk had the crowd singing quietly along and swaying in time, especially to hit, ‘Australia,’ an obvious crowd favourite. Songs full of niceties and heartbreak were gobbled up with equal enthusiasm, only made more poignant and even sweeter when holding a hand in a dark room full of people. We chose not to jump out the window.