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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

Shins retain pants, fans

By Chloe Cotherman
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 22, 2005

On April 12, gaggles of Converse-clad teens flocked to First Avenue for the second night of The Shins’ tour promoting their second album, Chutes Too Narrow. Most recently, the Albuquerque indie-rock quartet were made a household name with the help of Zach Braff’s “Garden State,” an independent film canonized and beloved by students in which the band makes an awkward “cameo” of sorts.

But before these lads took the stage, the opening act, The Brunettes, was received by the all ages audience with general enthusiasm. The ridiculousness of this New Zealand septet’s juvenile tinkering on a slew of odd instruments reminded me of Belle and Sebastian and the Partridge Family.

They were also reminiscent of the percussion section of my middle school band as they scrambled around during transitions, fumbling with clarinets, triangles and shaker eggs. It was a bizarre experience, though not wholly unlikable. Somehow they managed to be endearing and sincere with their humble, playful musical arrangements and unabashedly candy-coated melodies, evocative of Brian Wilson.

But of course, the packed house had come to see The Shins.

From the beginning of their concert, The Shins approached the audience with their own good-natured advice in mind: “You want to fight for this love/But honey you cannot wrestle a dove.” Their passive, easygoing attitudes, shamefully lame jokes and shy, empty threats to perform “sans pants” (apparently, they’ve been known to drop trou mid-show to spice things up) reminded me more of goofy high school guys than “real rock stars.”

Indeed, they are refreshingly far from being “cooler-than-thou” Julian Casablancas caricatures. It is also notable that The Shins don’t seem to have a true frontman. Bantering duties are shared by singer James Mercer and keyboard player Marty Crandall, with Mercer leaving the thrashing-about business to bassist David Hernandez. Jesse Sandoval drums away in his own beautifully complicated world, allowing the audience to take him for granted as he hides in the upstage shadows of his three companions.

When it comes down to it, The Shins are just a group of awkward guys who like playing music together with as little ego as possible.

The most successful numbers of their main set were a cover of a Magnetic Fields’ song, the propulsive “Mine’s Not a High Horse” and the glimmering “Pink Bullets.” During the latter, the distant organ undertones induced a prickly spiritual sensation that only the most emotionally vulnerable and naked of melodies could awaken.

This moving experience was a welcome one. For awhile I was a little worried about being let down by one of my favorite bands. Disappointingly, “New Slang” did not change my life, as Natalie Portman’s character in “Garden State” assured me it would, and many numbers were a struggle for the band to pull off live. They are not musically tight enough at this point. But it was only their second show; I’m sure that by the time they grace the stage on their tour’s latter legs, they’ll have tightened up some screws.

The concert proved that The Shins are best appreciated in more intimate settings. This band has accompanied me frequently through many journeys of the past year. The swirling, celestial sounds of “Caring is Creepy” have made my brain dizzy through headphones on meandering walks in the rain. The bouncy “Turn a Square” has pounded out of my car speakers as an exuberant kickoff to summer road-trips.

However, despite their somewhat lax chops and my preference for the intimacy of their studio recordings, The Shins left their First Ave. audience undoubtedly happy with three dynamite encore pieces – perhaps the show’s best songs.

Fittingly, the night of good, clean fun (with pants still in place) ended with the lovely “Gone For Good,” a plodding, twangy, anti-love song. The band then scampered offstage, having won over more than a few friends.

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