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The Shins 'wince' to diehards at two sold out Paramount concerts
The Shins 'wince' to diehards at two sold out Paramount concerts
by Jessica Browning - SGN A&E Writer

The Shins w/ Viva Voce
February 18 @ Paramount Theatre

It's not the fault of The Shins that they accidentally became the poster child for indie rock romantics when Natalie Portman said, "This band will change your life", in Garden State.

It's also not their fault they were put on soul-less radio-sponsored programs where they don't fit in, or that ticket outlets tack on fee after fee until the aforementioned indie romantics can't afford to see them anymore. Or, even that pressure has skyrocketed for the now-quintet after selling over a million albums. What this really means to a fan of The Shins is fishing to find reasons to connect in a personal way again, and vice versa. The endearing quiet appeal has grown into sellout crowds, arena shows, and mile-high expectations. It's a tough thing to be true to your music, and to fans over all these hurdles. But The Shins are sure trying.

When the lights dimmed and the five-piece unit finally appeared under a simple band of starry lights, the crowd went wild. The show began with "Sleeping Lessons", and James Mercer and company seemed happy to be playing in Seattle once again, bouncing in place and enjoying themselves immensely. With a dramatic drop of the curtain, the whimsical Dr. Seuss-like artwork from the newest release Wincing the Night Away appeared. Mercer made reference to a recent cold before the amazing "Kissing the Lipless" from Chutes Too Narrow, joking that "if my voice sounds a bit rough, remember it's not my vocals, it's your ears." The recent cold was only slightly noticeable.

The set was a fairly even distribution between all three albums, although the newer material sounds a bit more labored and not quite as punchy as stunners like "New Slang" and "Caring Is Creepy". Some of these songs are a little on the slow side, although "Turn On Me" was energetic and tapped into The Shins of old. Even the more upbeat songs sounded a bit depressing in such a huge hall. The sound was muddy to the point of obliterating some of Mercer's best lines. Thankfully, I could just make out my favorite lyrics from "A Comet Appears" ("Every post you can hitch your faith on/Is a pie in the sky/Chock full of lies/A tool we devise/To make sinking stones fly"), which to me sounds oddly prophetic.

The crowd was a mixed bag of cute boys in glasses, hopeless romantic singles, and diehard indie fan-types. It seemed to be a choice show for a date, and also a prime concert if you were looking to meet someone musically inclined and thoughtful. Mercer, vocalist-guitarist-lyricist, has a penchant for dreamy, sometimes surreal, lyrics that might make a young heart beat a little faster. Filled out with bandmates Marty Crandall (keys), Dave Hernandez (bass), Eric Johnson (multi-instrumentalist) and Jesse Sandoval (drums), The Shins don't sound much like any other band. They have a sound born of 60s pop and melodies from post-new wave bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure, but manage to create something fresh. It's no carbon copy. It's actually quite unique.

Tickets for The Shins' initial performance at the Paramount (on February 20) sold out so fast that a second date was added for Sunday evening (February 18). This too sold out, with just a few extra tickets available for scrounging online a few days before the show. A third level mezzanine ticket sold for $25.

Openers Viva Voce's two-piece, stripped-down rock sounded fantastic and carried well and clearly in such a huge venue, even from my nosebleed seat. I found them much more enjoyable than on the duo's third CD Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. Their dark, road-tested songs really came to life in a live setting. Anita Robinson of Viva Voce actually joined The Shins on background vocals and tambourine a few times during their performance. Fans of The Black Angels and Secret Machines should take note of this band. I'd love to see them again headlining their own show, and rumor has it Viva Voce will return to Seattle in March.

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