Considering it was a relocated concert by a revamped band, there was surprisingly little to complain about with the Shins’ show Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre. For starters, the ornate historic theater was an obvious step up from what would’ve been an overcrowded, capacity-challenged Brick nightclub. Even the bands seemed impressed.
“This place is incredible,” remarked Peter Sibelman of opening act the Antlers, which had played with the Shins a night earlier at Harrah’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa. That’s right, a casino. Talk about hitting the jackpot. Not only was the Orpheum probably the nicest space on the bands’ tour, it also allowed the Shins the chance to sell 500 or so more tickets than the 1800 or so that the Brick could have accommodated even under its old, inflated capacity (just a few rows in the balcony remained unsold Friday). So no complaints from the musicians.
Fans made out well in the end, too. Never mind the sightlines and comfort level and all that, this just wasn’t a show that begged to be standing and rocking or doing anything but casually enjoying the music from a seat. It’s a chicken-or-egg issue, sure, but the crowd didn’t seem real eager to get up and rock out throughout most of the 100-minute performance -- which is how it’s been all the times I’ve seen James Mercer and whatever band he’s with (and I don’t just mean former Shins lineups, I mean Broken Bells, too). Ol’ James just isn’t that kind of a rock star.
But Mercer certainly did stand up to the scrutiny surrounding his all-new Shins lineup. He’s no Billy Corgan; he knows what he’s doing. In a word, the performance by the new group was solid. More than a few times in the show, “stolid” could also be applied, but that has always been a trait of the Shins' live shows. The inclusion of several drab, lifeless songs also didn't help, such as the “deep cut” selection (James’ words) “Sphagnum Esplanade” or the title track of the new album, “Port of Morrow.” The liveliest part of the show was actually the first half-hour. “Caring Is Creepy” reached a frantic, dark high point before things literally brightned tenfold -- as the stage lights and the album-cover backdrop lit up -- for the poppy new single “Simple Song,” followed by another warm, organ-laden new gem, “Bait and Switch.”
Older fans got their ga-ga’s out later in the show with “Mine’s Not a High Horse” (in which new guitarist Jessica Dobson showed off some snarly chops) and then with the pre-encore 1-2 punch of “New Slang” and “Sleeping Lessons.” Mercer kicked off the encore by playing three-quarters of “September” all by his lonesome, then he told the crowd he was about to trade “40 Mark Strasse” on the set list in place of “It’s Only Life” at the request of a fan (one new song for another; I doubt most other fans cared). The way-oldie “One by One All Day” then ended the show with an extended, Velvet Underground-pulsating jam. By then, some folks were standing. And some were headed for the door.
Kissing the Lipless / Caring Is Creepy / Simple Song / Bait and Switch / ?? / Phantom Limb / The Rifle’s Spiral / Saint Simon / Know Your Onion / No Way Down / Sphagnum Esplanade / Australia / Mine’s Not a High Horse / Port of Morrow / New Slang / Sleeping Lessons ENCORE: September / 40 Mark Strasse / One by One All Day