The Shins, with Viva Voce
Date: February 20, 2007
Venue: Paramount Theatre
"What? Where's the bassist?" said Viva Voce drummer Kevin Robinson, repeating the question hurled at him from amid the crowd mid-set Tuesday night at the Paramount Theatre.
"They're for pussies!" His wife, VV singer-guitarist Anita Robinson, shot him a playful look as he mischievously added, "Ohhhh, the Shins have a bassist..." Charged with warming up the sold-out house for the Shins, the Portland duo didn't disappoint as they cranked through tunes drawn mainly from their recent Get Yr Blood Sucked Out and 2004's The Heat Can Melt Your Brain. With his scruffy beard and a headband pinning his long hair to his temples, Kevin's look was reminiscent of Bill Walton in his Trailblazers days, and he was almost as dexterous -- thwapping his kit, singing, playing keyboards, tweaking a stompbox for noisy effects, and occasionally strumming an acoustic guitar. Anita, meanwhile, fetching in a dark skirt and black top, led the way with her girlish vocals and rippin' six-stringery, proving she deserves a spot on Rolling Stone's "New Guitar Gods" list (see earlier Reverb post).
The pair ended with "We Do Not Fuck Around" -- musically speaking, they really don't, and the hearty applause indicated the crowd definitely appreciated their efforts. But they were there for the Shins, and when the house lights dimmed and the Portland quintet took the stage -- which was bathed in blue and green lights; a giant tree was projected behind them, with twinkly overhead lights appearing to hang from its branches -- the crowd erupted. The band greeted them with "Sleeping Lessons," the opening track on their third album, Wincing the Night Away, then followed with a couple more selections from the new disc as well as "Kissing the Lipless," the lead track on 2003's breakthrough Chutes Too Narrow.
Though frontman James Mercer's voice was reportedly quite ragged during Sunday night's show at the Paramount, his pipes were in fine form Tuesday night, spot-on as he launched into his trademark falsetto and shifted down confidently into his lower registers. Musically, though, the band appeared tentative at the outset, nervous even, and weren't quite clicking. Mercer commented a few times about how impressed he was by the magnificence of the Paramount; in a way the space worked against them -- opulent and cavernous, it forces its performers to rise to the environment, and the Shins' "everydudeness" (okay, relative lack of charisma and aura) couldn't quite pull it off.
Still, after those early bumps in the road, the band locked in by the middle of the 19-song set with rousing renditions of "Girl on the Wing" and "New Slang" (for which they were joined on backing vocals by Viva Voce's Anita Robinson). Mostly, the Shins spent the evening justifying all of those Smiths comparisons with their smart jangle-pop, although Morrissey, with all of his magnetism, wouldn't have busted out a pair of gigantic granny panties and worn them on his head or hung them on his microphone stand, as multi-instrumentalist Martin Crandall did to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
"That's the shit that keeps us going on tour," Mercer laughed.
Undoubtedly, the swooning, ecstatic crowds keep the Shins going as well -- the cheers were deafening after set-closer "Caring is Creepy" (probably the best song of the night), and continued unabated during a fairly long wait for the band's two-song encore, which consisted of a cover of the Modern Lovers' "Someone I Care About" (featuring Viva Voce's Kevin Robinson on cowbell -- yes, several people in the crowd, not to mention Crandall, cracked that joke) and an especially animated "So Says I." By the end, the granny panties had been tossed into the crowd by someone in the band -- adoration for their devoted fans in kind of a reverse-Tom Jones way.