November 17, 2017
Touring off their latest album, Heartworms, The Shins rolled through Charlotte on Thursday night to play to a sold out crowd at The Fillmore. Heartworms is their first album since 2012’s stand-out Port Of Morrow but it doesn’t seem any of the talent or general delightfulness has been extinguished within those five years. Rumbling through their discography of hits, The Shins were inviting and comfortable on stage as well as with the crowd. After all, they had some longtime friends cheering them on and frontman James Mercer even dedicated a cover of what sounded like an old country tune to Plaza Midwood’s own Lee Rathers, owner of The Greener Apple (inside Book Buyers) thanking her for introducing him to ‘cool music’ once upon a time. The dedication and knowledge of the area clearly delighted the crowd, especially when Mercer mentioned he went to Common Market earlier in the day.
Opening the night up was Baio, a solo DJ project from Vampire Weekend bassist, Chris Baio. Sometimes a crowd doesn’t exactly respond well to an opener but Baio’s charm, energy, bow-tie and suave dance moves quickly won the audience over. Accompanied by George Hume on electric guitar, the pair gave an immediately impressive indietronica performance, nuanced with funk, dance, and just the right amount of filthy grooves. By the second track, the crowd was enraptured and it was hard to not find yourself dancing right along with the dapper frontman. The set was polished, artful, and incredibly fun, held together by Baio’s deep, sultry Depeche Mode-esque vocals. A screen stood behind the duo and a retro cursor and type asked brooding questions like “do you know who you are?” mirroring the dark, lush tones of Hume’s dreamy guitar chords all while a cheeky Baio wiggled about across the stage. A luxurious cover of White Town’s “Your Woman” was thrown into the mix, but mostly the pair rocked through tracks from Baio’s 2017 release Man Of The World including “The Key Is Under the Mat,” “DANGEROUE ANAMAL,” “Sensitive Guy,” and the album’s title track which incorporated deep, loose bass undertones.
Hardly saying a word, The Shins ripped open with “Caring Is Creepy” and “Australia” both songs bursting with swagger and way more dance vibes than I would’ve expected. To put it in circa mid-2000s terms, the strobing performance was way more a Friday night at The OC’s Bait Shop than it was the intimate isolation of Garden State. Flashing smiles, the band bounded into Heartworms’ first single, “Name For You.” The song, a positive, feminine-focused track written for Mercer’s daughters, has brought acclaim for the band on this year’s charts for its topical lyricism and catchy pop-oriented hooks. “Kissing The Lipless” came next, escorted by thin white and red lights which bathed the crowd throughout the night while the band continued to play hit after hit, including “Rifle’s Spiral.” Pulling from their 2003 album, Chutes Too Narrow, the band settled into a twangy, pleasant rhythm for “Saint Simon,” “Mine’s Not A High Horse,” and “Gone For Good” which employed a pedal steel cry underneath the cruising, folksy song landscape and even featured Mercer on harmonica.
Urgent keys in “Half A Million” kept the thrilling momentum going but before launching into the next track, some form of technical difficulty with Mercer’s earpiece led to him shouting “Fuck it, we’re going live!” to the absolute glee and roar of the crowd which only magnified as a knowing tambourine lead started off “Phantom Limb.” One of their best-known songs, the entire Fillmore held their hands up as the band stepped back to let the audience take over the bridge, swaying and singing along as if it were an old Irish drinking song and each of the other 2,000 fellow Shins fans were long lost friends. It was really beautiful and almost overwhelming to fill a room with that much loving camaraderie, especially in these difficult social and political times. Speaking of which, the set closed with “Simple Song” a gracefully orchestrated song that humbly speaks of nothing being nearly as important as the simplicity of love. The chorus leaves the poignant lyric “I know that things can really get tough, when you go it alone / Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough and bleed like a stone” ringing in your head, and in it there’s encouragement to show the simple act of love in the day to day world, where it really does get tough.
Coming back for an encore, the band traded in their keys and guitars for violins, plucking and picking their way through the resonating “The Fear” off Heartworms. The band softly stepped into “New Slang” which became another heartfelt string-pulling sing-along. The Shins for the most part have been pocketed as a niche band, a secret weapon for unlocking those devastating, peculiarly sweet memories that timelessly define the era between high school and early twenties. The Shins are a long-held and trusted friend that you can keep close to your heart thanks to Mercer’s recognizable, intimate vocals and the songs’ melodic crafting. Circling in on 20 years as a band, being a little under the radar seems to work for the group, especially when they can still sell out a venue where 95% of the crowd is eager to bounce and sing along to the majority of the setlist.
Check out the remaining dates on The Shins 2017 tour.