Gig Review: The Shins, Manchester Academy 2, March 27, 2007

Now I realised that this Shins gig was going to be different from previous occasions. The album, Wincing the Night Away, has received a lot of mainstream press and the landscape has changed a great deal since Chutes Too Narrow in 2004. I was not expecting to be stood amidst a lot of adolescent boys after The Ledge encouraged me to get to the venue early and get to the front so he could also have a good vantage point when he got finished playing football and finally joined me. I could hear the lads to my right singing the opening bars of “New Slang” as they waited, in between the opening acts. The mother of the teenage girl behind me held my place when I went to the toilet and I listened to them discussing previous gigs at the Academy 2 – it seems gig-going is a great family event for them. What a great family!

Needless to say, the crowd was amusing and unusual as we waited for The Shins to finally take the stage, after what turned out to be memorable appearances by openers Jeremy Warmsley and Viva Voce. The former started off his set like a skinny, British Colin Meloy before morphing into the Divine Comedy, then the Strokes and then back again. If he’s a little all over the place stylistically, he had a charming stage presence and some unusual subject matter including, but not limited to, a song about insects and a song about living in Jersey during The War. The closing song he played on the keyboard was brilliant even if it has faded from memory a little. There is certainly some potential there for some great songs.

Viva Voce at Manchester Academy 2Viva Voce, far from being merely charming, were quite an extraordinary sight to behold. They looked so innocuous when they came on stage, the slightly overweight, long-haired hippy drummer, smiling at the crowd as he settled himself, and the guitarist, looking every inch the primary school teached all dressed up for a “date” at her local Pizza Express with her live-in boyfriend of five years, the mid-level marketing guy. Then they started playing and she launched into the loudest, longest rock n’ roll guitar solo I’ve ever witnessed without wanting to kill myself. Seriously though, she was amazing. And she did it completely effortlessly while her drummer grinned and chuckled along. They sounded like a noisier, rockier Jesus & Mary Chain with female vocals and it was brilliant. The Ledge was also transfixed, not the least by the collection of guitars on stage which included a very cool Rickenbacker and a doubled-necked Danelectro.

Finally though, The Shins emerged, beefed up with a new stage setup and an extra guitarist/keyboard player as well as the occasional backing vocals from Anita from Viva Voce to help them achieve the sounds on the new album. They opened with a haunting version of “Sleeping Lessons” before getting straight to the two singles off the new album, “Australia” and “Phantom Limb.” I was struck first off by the newfound confidence of James Mercer as he stood right at the centre of the stage, where he used to hide to one side, letting Marty Crandall take centre stage and lead the banter with the crowd. Instead, he was forceful and outgoing and joking, taking the time to discuss dressing room graffiti which apparently read, “Hitler Dicks.” His simple philosophy for the night? “Fun good. Hitler bad.” Words to live by if ever I’ve heard any.

The Shins at Manchester Academy 2The setlist they played was as good a one as I could possibly have hoped. We got new songs, we got old songs. We got “Know Your Onion,” “Turn a Square,” “Gone For Good” and “New Slang.” We got “Caring Is Creepy,” “Girl Sailor” and “Kissing the Lipless.” It was all highlights. I was amused as ever as “Girl Inform Me” was sped up to a frantic pace while “New Slang” was slowed down to practically a torch song crawl, performed back-to-back. I do feel bad because from my vantage point I could read the setlist and told the young lad stood to my left that indeed, “Girl on a Wing” was on there. It was, but they skipped it and he was gutted. I could hear the crowd to my right and behind me singing gleefully and shouting requests, but to my left, but for that one lad, looking down the front row, all I could see were teenage faces looking bored and disappointed. I don’t know what they were expecting, but it clearly wasn’t the rocking glee of The Shins’ live experience. It’s remarkable how far they’ve come from that performance with The Stills at the Academy 3 back in 2004 when James Mercer looked terrified. Or the one a couple of months later at the Liverpool Academy where he practically hid behind a pillar on the stage. This set was emphatic and outgoing and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves even more than we were enjoying watching them in the crowd.

I know that Wincing the Night Away has divided bloggers. Many people don’t like the new direction, but I think, especially on the evidence of this performance, that it is defiantly a great Shins record. All the lilting melodies, the captivating harmonies, the lyrical playfulness and the earnestness and seriousness of the subject matter are all there, with some new sounds to accompany. Underneath the bleeps and weird keyboard noises lies some of the most sincere and personal songwriting you’re likely to hear anywhere and live all the simple beauty of what James Mercer does with lyrics and melodies comes out and it is really a brilliantly uplifting sight to behold. If you missed them this time around, don’t make the same mistake again when they return.

The Shins – Girl Inform Me (Live & Acoustic at 6 Music)

The Shins – Girl Sailor

10 Responses to “Gig Review: The Shins, Manchester Academy 2, March 27, 2007”

  • beth Says:

    Argh! you are rubbing salt into my wounds!!!
    I never thought the tickets would sell out so quickley – glad it was worth missing though.

    While we’re on holiday we’ll be missing Tom McRae and Fountains of Wayne…stupid holidays.

  • JustHipper Says:

    Sorry…if it helps, everytime the Eels tour we seem to be on holiday. Hmm.

    You coming to the blogmeet on Saturday then?

  • beth Says:

    oh, I don’t know about the blogmeet…if I think too much about them I get too scared…you’re going then?

  • JustHipper Says:

    Yes, we’ll be there. The last one was good fun and the local bloggers I’ve met so far have all been a real affable bunch. You can bring a friend or 2 if you’re concerned, you know.

  • yankunian Says:

    Oh, I’m sorry I missed that – The Shins AND Viva Voce? Brilliant.

    Even trying to hide behind themselves in 2004, I thought that gig was amazing. And I don’t understand why Wincing is getting such poor reception… i think it’s quite good.

  • James Says:

    Hmmm… I’m a bit gutted I missed out on that one too now. I’m one of the majority that finds Wincing… a bit of a disappointment, but it sounds like it was a good gig. I’ve seen Jeremy Warmsley before and was pleasantly surprised but I had no idea he was supporting them. Dammit!

    Beth; come to the blogmeet! You’ve given a good account of yourself at past ones, along with Tim. It won’t be the same without you guys!

  • beth Says:

    James, thank you! I’ll feel bad now if we don’t come! But we’re supposed to be painting gates tomorrow…I know, I know – it’s a rubbish excuse….

  • James Says:

    Painting gates?! Um, can’t that wait? Hey, it’s okay if you can’t make it, there’ll be other blogmeets. Just make sure you’re not creosoting the fence next time.

    Sorry, Just Hipper and The Ledge for turning your comments section into something resembling an IM conversation. Let normal service resume.

  • JustHipper Says:

    No no, if we hassle her enough, maybe they’ll come down for a couple of drinks.

    So, Beth, if I’m reading this correctly, you’ve met James at a previous blog meet, he scared you and you don’t want to repeat the experience?


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