On Monday, The Shins played at the Mondavi Center and filled the sold-out place to the brim with their musical vibrancy.
James Mercer, with his singularly potent talent and his variously skilled supporting cast, jingled on stage with their often wistful, strangely melancholic, yet joyful tunes.
They performed for about an hour and a half, mixing it up between Port of Morrow, their most recent and perhaps too under appreciated album, and the hits. Those ranged from “New Slang,” “Phantom Limb,” “Pink Bullets” and so on, forcing everyone in the audience who didn’t already know that, wow, they have a huge array of truly excellent songs.
Anyone who was worried about The Shins (given Mercer’s relatively recent drift off into Broken Bells, a shoot-off pop-indie attempt met with decent success) probably need not be. The Shins are not dead. They are far from dead. They are very much alive.
It is worth noting, however, that while their live sound is crisp, it is not flawless. They come off best in their softer melodies, during something like “New Slang,” when the instrumentals don’t outweigh the vocals. That is not to say they aren’t good. They are very good — live and otherwise. The chemistry of perfection, however, eluded them at the Mondavi.
Opening up for The Shins were Gardens and Villa, straight out of Santa Barbara, my hometown, looking like a bunch of dirty hipsters (typical of Santa Barbara). They had a Shins-esque quality with a vaguely similar, wistful indie-rock stylization that I found to be very good. They were different enough to spark substantive interest and are certainly worth looking into (they were also at Coachella).
Before The Shins came out, Gardens and Villa’s lead singer, Chris Lynch, busted out a flute (yes, a flute). He rocked that thing like, quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone rock a flute before: with a vengeance. Though literally, I doubt I’ve ever seen someone really attempt to rock out with a flute.
Later in the show, when The Shins were on, people rose from their seats and the Mondavi got a little steamy. When The Shins exited, the crowd cheered forcefully until Mercer returned to play an acoustic encore. All of the band then came back out and played a couple more songs.
The Shins are a substantial band. Their vocals ring with a verve, and their instrumentals rise towards excellence. It was a good show. I felt lucky to see them live.
JAMES O’HARA can be contacted at email@example.com.