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Gig Review: The Shins, Manchester Academy, 8th November 2007

Vampire Weekend @ Manchester AcademyVampire Weekend seem to be all the rage on the bloggernet at the moment but I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. Yes, they play the sort of concise, tuneful American indie pop that is bound to please much of The Shins’ audience, and they’ve got this whole Bhundu Boys thing going on with the guitars and rhythms that will make them stand out a little from the pack, but they’re just too clean cut and polite for my tastes, even more so live than on record. The opening “Mansard Roof” and the closing “Oxford Comma” were probably the best in a bunch of songs that routinely failed to pique my interest, though they did go down well with plenty of other people on the night and the band even managed to conduct a successful sing-a-long at one point.

The Shins @ Manchester AcademyWhen The Shins played Manchester earlier in the year their stage dynamic had noticeably changed: it seemed that keyboard player/guitarist Marty Crandell had been asked to tone down his act. Marty was known for goofing around on stage and was involved in most of the between-song banter, taking much of the limelight away from James Mercer who seemed quite content to get on with his singing duties. At this year’s Leeds Festival I actually queued at the NME signing tent for a good hour or so to get my programme signed (in the hope of increasing its value to something close to what I actually paid for it) and to specifically ask Marty “How come you’re not goofy anymore?” in a kind of tribute to Dennis Pennis’ Steve Martin interview. The band were in danger of exceeding their time slot in the tent and, inevitably, the queue was cut at a point just a couple of people in front of me and, despite prolonged protests by JustHipper, our good friend Wendy and I, I never got to ask the question.

I still want to know the answer because I feel that The Shins have lost a little of their spark as they attempt to conquer the mid-sized venues of the world; the combination of bigger venues and less audience banter making for a less edifying Shins concert experience than of yore. This was in evidence through the first half of this gig. Despite the brilliant opening gambit of “Sleeping Lessons” and “Turn On Me”, a superbly beefed up “Girl Inform Me” and a grinding, shuddering “Sea Legs” it all felt a bit flat. Oldie “When I Goose Step” passed almost as high above my own head as it did most of the audience, I’ve yet to really understand the appeal of “Girl Sailor” and both “Turn A Square” and “Mine’s Not A High Horse” sounded solid and dependable rather than inspired.

The Shins @ Manchester AcademyIt all changed with “Phantom Limb” with its shimmering guitars and stately melodies; their best song, perhaps the best song to released in the past year by anyone. They’d been saving all the special stuff for last and I’d forgotten exactly how good their special stuff was. We got the gorgeous country lilt of “Gone For Good”, a slowed down, countryfied “New Slang” (which, curiously, seemed to be the cue for a lot of the youngsters around us to start chattering at each other), the bulletproof melodies of “Kissing The Lipless” and “Saint Simon” and an exhausting “Know Your Onion”. It was blistering stuff as the band found their groove and didn’t let up, closing out the set with “Australia” and encoring with the plaintive “Past And Pending” and the manic pop thrill of “So Says I”. They pulled it out of the bag in the end but it’s a worrying prospect that as they play bigger and bigger venues – as they certainly should be doing in the next couple of years – they might lose some of the charm and charisma that made their early shows so special.

Vampire Weekend – Mansard Roof

The Shins – Phantom Limb

The Shins – Girl Inform Me (live on 6music)

Posted by The Ledge on 15th November 2007 at 11:10 pm | comments (6)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy,mp3,Reviews,the shins,vampire weekend.