The Shins @ ACL Live (3/18)

Being a Shins fan at this point in my life has put me in an odd position.  I always prayed and hoped that the band would be more animated/more rocking in the live setting, and after last night’s performance at ACL Live, it seems they’ve accomplished that feat; I’m just not sure if it’s what I really want. I’m all for musical growth, as bands are organic beings, growing, aging, changing.  The Shins have definitely gone through such changes, cleaning off all the fat to leave only James Mercer and his current line-up of friends.  Sure, I miss Marty, but that’s not going to change the enigmatic Mercer, especially his voice–one of the most distinctive in the biz. For me, the new polish and sheen brings to fruition what I always hoped, and it definitely fits the new vibe from Port of Morrow, but adding it to the hits kind of threw me for a loop.

They opened with a nice collection of hits from Oh Inverted World and Chutes to Narrow, surely to get the crowd into the mood.  Those jams were definitely the personal highlight, though a week spent at SXSW had obviously put some strain on Mercer’s voice.  That being said, his band seems a lot more lively, which is definitely going to win the band new fans; they move about the stage, and there’s more energy coming through.  As the band moved into “Simple Song” from the new album, I was actually feeling it; it reminded me of hints of old Shins tunes, but with light new touches that definitely provided a new emphasis on polish.  They actually played quite a few jams from the record, and while I haven’t spent a lot of the time with Port of Morrow as of yet, I can definitely see a new direction.  Richard Swift, who we love, adds that noise influence no doubt left over from Mercer’s work with Danger Mouse. However, it was that very presence that’s put me in my current state.

It’s one thing to move and progress, but I guess I missed some of the earnest sincerity from the old records.  When Swift adds his keyboard and knob twiddling efforts to memorable hits from Chutes to Narrow and Oh Inverted World it definitely changes the entire concept of the albums that I fell in love with as a youngster. At times the noise just seemed unnecessary, almost as if James is trying his hardest to distance himself from his past.  That sentiment saddened me, and as it sank in more that this was no longer the same group with the sound I fell in love with in 2001 while living off in the woods in Yellowstone, I guess that’s where it lost me.

Don’t get me wrong, the new line-up is by far more talented, at least in working with Mercer, but there’s something missing.  It’s not a “I knew them before they blew up” sentiment here, instead it’s the complete change in dynamics.  What used to be an innocent group of goofballs with great songs is now a high-powered force ready to take on any stage.  The Shins controlled the intimate set at ACL, completely winning over every member in the crowd, save this one. When it airs, you’ll see a reimagined group who continues to push themselves, and their sound.  I guess I’ll stop waxing nostalgic; it’s time to move on.

Photo Credit to Scott Newton. Check out Soundcheck Magazine for more photos from Randy C!

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