Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Friday December 8, 2017 :
Every time I meet someone new, who doesn’t know of The Shins, I automatically quote Natalie Portman from Zac Braff’s beautiful indie movie, Garden State – “You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life. I swear”
Garden State was a movie that defined my early twenties and destroyed my weekends, taped into self-doubt, romantic cliches, bittersweet teenage years and overly medicated state of youth even to this day. All of this soundtracked by The Shins’ ‘New Slang’ : “I’m looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find / Without a trust or flaming fields am I too dumb to refine?” The song became so iconic, that I’d be lying if I said, that it didn’t change my life too.
When overly excited teamed with high expectations, you get to the venue fairly early. The support was about to start, Angie McMahon, the winner of Josh Pyke’s “music partnership grant” and clearly a Melbournian, played to a small crowd of The Shins super fans taking their spots at the front. The venue was still pretty much empty, which made Angie’s voice reverberant and haunting. McMahon’s hit track ‘Slow Mover’ encaptures great songwriting and her deep, brooding vocals are quite captivating.
When the lights go out to signal that it’s time to come on stage, the already packed venue, that is the beautiful Enmore Theatre, cheered and whistled mixing with James Mercer’s raw vocals on ‘Caring Is Creepy’, which set the tone of the whole performance for tonight. The stage was decorated with artificial flowers and a huge colourful skull backdrop that resembled Heartworms (2017) album cover art.
James Mercer has spoken! After introducing the band and announcing that it was drummer Jon Sortland’s and keyboardist Patti King’s first time in Australia, the band played ‘Australia’ off Wincing the Night Away (2007) which was the first The Shins album I owned. The band followed with ‘Name For You’ off Heartworms (2017), the DIY miracle of a record that is responsible of draining my phone battery as it is oh, so, perfect for long train commutes.
‘Kissing The Lipless’ (2003), ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ (2012) and ‘Mine’s Not a High Horse’ (2003) – the crowd swayed and clapped along, the allocated seating area up on the balcony was full and every second person in awe. ‘Cherry Hearts’ (2017) flows into ‘Gone For Good’ (2003) echoing in the venue and dragging people from the bar onto the floor with ghost hands, because this show has just been labelled as an “every fan’s anthem day dream“.
‘Mildenhall’ is such a personal song, 6 people on stage and all eyes are on James Mercer as his incredible songwriting paints a picture of his childhood : “A kid in class passed me a tape of a band called the Jesus and Mary Chain, I started messing with my dad’s guitar / He taught me some chords just to start me off / Whittling away on all of those rainy days / And that’s how we get to where we are now.”
So much has changed for the band since the start. These days its not a 4 piece anymore, its almost an orchestra, Mercer seems as if he stopped trying to fit in and let the whole world fit around him. ‘Painting A Hole’, a stand out song off Heartworms send the floor dancing and the band into an unlikely trance with guitar shred and Mercer’s lingering vocal echoes. “I’m feeling loose and my life don’t make sense” he continues in ‘Half A Million'(2017) finishing off with such classics as ‘Phantom Limb’ (2007) and ‘Simple Song’ (2012) were a safe and delightful closer, with a sing-a-long to every “la la la”. The band waved, bowed, thanked everyone and walked off stage.
The encore was a real treat, emerging back on stage with ‘The Fear’, a very powerful song about struggles with depression and anxiety, released on Heartworms (2017) – “You look into my eyes, but don’t really recognise me any more.” – it’s quite surprising to see such a song delivered with such energy, orchestral arrangement, laced with three violins and sounding bigger than ever.
‘New Slang’ off Oh, Inverted World (2001) is a cornerstone for The Shins, it brought Mercer’s genuine storytelling from indie Sub Pop label into wide audiences across the globe and made them a success story. I love that Mercer is never shy to share his life and his thoughts with all of us, it’s truly an important quality of a songwriter, because we all want to relate and to compare, it gives us all hope that we are not alone.
The first time at this show that the band really came together and felt like a new beginning for The Shins, despite Mercer being the only original member, was at the very end – the mash up of ‘Sleeping Lessons’ (2007) & Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’. The band thanked each other and the crowd, bowed, waved, threw some guitar picks to the crowd and walked off seeming pretty happy with themselves.
Early shows, clocking off before 10:30pm, give you room to think and to embark on the experience. So far, this was a show of the year for me. I’m grateful to have witnessed newness in one the band’s that changed my life.
Reviewer and Photographer : Annette Geneva