The Shins capture something wistful and melancholy for all generations

By Evana Bodiker

April 21, 2017

“Symphonic,” a fellow audience member wrote in my notebook as we stood in a swaying crowd of exuberant fans at the Shins’ first U.S album tour show since 2013. If it were any other concert but the Shins, I might have felt a little out of place eagerly scribbling notes in my journal. But for a band who got their start with a feature on the Garden State soundtrack, the vibe felt right.

It was clear upon first sight of the stage the Shins’ approach to this tour relies heavily on aesthetic appeal. The stage was adorned with oversized tissue paper flowers and boasted a backdrop that resembled the cover art of the band’s latest album Heartworms. Not that the audience was filled with flower children; in fact, it was a pleasant surprise to see such a diverse audience. From the anticipated hipsters to new teenaged fans (who, of course, I could relate to, having discovered the band in my high school indie enthusiasm) to young professionals to middle aged couples, the Shins sold-out the Ritz in Raleigh on a Thursday evening. This, of course, is not surprising, considering fans have been waiting four years for this band to tour again.

Photo by Hayes Cooper

The opening act, the Sleepwalkers (of Richmond Virginia), matched the sunny, feel-good vibes of the stage decor in their breezy rock ‘n’ roll set. Opening for such an iconic indie band is not an easy feat, but they held their own, calling to mind other Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers and The Revivalists. Speaking to the guitarist Michael York post-set, he expressed the band’s excitement opening for a band like the Shins. “It’s amazing to be with James Mercer and company,” he said, going on to praise the Shins as great songwriters and performers. Of the Oak City, he said emphatically, “The crowd was vibrant tonight. Raleigh is awesome.” York, and his brother and bandmate Austin, had been to the Ritz years before to see the White Stripes on their “Elephant” tour. It was humbling to hear the band’s excitement about returning to Raleigh, this time to play a stage once graced by none other than Jack White.

The crowd showed up and they showed up long before the Sleepwalkers took the stage, filling the venue to capacity. When the Shins finally came on, the crowd surged towards James Mercer like he was their indie prophet. Opening with “Kissing the Lipless,” the crowd followed Mercer’s energetic lead as he surged through some of the Shins’ most notable early songs, including “So Now What” and “Simple Song.” Friends hugged each other, arms were thrown high into the air, and the stage seemed to make the crowd levitate. It was clear this was not just a revival for the Shins, but also for many fans in the audience.

The band did not neglect their earlier discography despite the fact this show kicked off the ‘Heartworms’ tour. The impressive ensemble managed to balance older songs from their ouvere such as “Phantom Limb” (a real crowd favorite and honestly, one of the most stunning performances of the entire set) and “Mine’s Not a High Horse” with new exciting jams like “Name for You” and “Half a Million” from their latest release. The crowd loved every song the band played; when they closed with “Caring Is Creepy,” it was clear the audience’s thirst had not yet been quenched.

Of course, a Shins show would not be complete without playing “New Slang.” The band returned for an encore, and it was as if the crowd was holding its breath until the opening chords of the song came from the ensemble. The song that gave the band its big start brought the show full circle. It was clear that no matter how many new members of the band are added, no matter how many years build up between albums, no matter how many new fans join the devoted base, the Shins will continue to capture something wistful and melancholy for generations to come. The “New Slang” will be a lasting vernacular, for new and old fans alike.

Check out the rest of the Shins 2017 tour dates.

Watch “Name For You” from the new album Heartworms.

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