The Shins, Husky @ FestivalHall, Melbourne (23/07/2012)
Wed 25th Jul, 2012 in Gig Reviews
It’s that time of the year again; when the mid-winter misery makes room in its schedule for the Splendour circus, coming back with another lineup of acts in 2012 as tempting as ever. Playing on a Monday is never the drawcard when it comes to filling a room, so it’s a good thing The Shins have a great deal going for them, including the fact it’s been a very long time between drinks.
Curing Mondayitis was on the cards the night’s main attraction, and support act Husky seemed to have gotten the memo, too. Having earned somewhat of a profile for themselves lately with radio exposure and a bevy of support slots to their name, Husky seemed to fit right into place ahead of The Shins. Between singer Husky Gawenda reminiscing about seeing his first ever gig at the very same venue (Bet you wouldn’t pick it was Faith No More) and bassist Evan Tweedie sharing that he was probably conceived in Festival Hall’s bathroom, the hometown group were in high spirits.
This was reflected in their tunes, too, with solid, hair raising harmonies and stellar piano solos that had early comers genuinely cheering them on. Showing no signs of jetlag despite having arrived back from the States that very day, Husky certainly did a nice job of acquiring themselves a few more punters for future gigs.
It’s always surprising how many people can fit onto the floor of Festival Hall, and whilst Husky pulled a sizeable crowd early on, the gaps quickly disappeared upon their departure. All those bodies were soon to make a lot of noise at the introduction of the Albuquerque lads and lass that make up The Shins, appearing with very little fan fare of their own and wasting little time in heading straight into their set with Caring is Creepy. Immediately, James Mercer took the lead to the right of stage, an instant reminder that his voice is one of the key ingredients to making his band so likeable.
Quick to move into the next track and then the next, 2003’s Kissing the Lipless and brand new favourite Simple Song both received instant ovation and sing alongs from most punters; recognition of how Mercer and his history of band members have had a pretty great track record when it comes to indie pop tunes. The latter of the pair brought with it the projection of the band’s hilltop critter across the back of stage, taken from the cover of this year’s Port of Morrow, and an indication of how heavily this album would feature in the set (all bar two of its tracks making the cut).
This being their first show down under for the tour, The Shins were quick to hit their stride, and there was plenty of appreciation and falsetto “la la las” on stage and off for Australia. The set continued at a fast pace, the band hardly pausing and Mercer giving little away between tracks other than the expected “thanks” or “this is our new single”. But while there was little in the way of interaction, things were kept interesting by the band’s bag of musical tricks and treats; everything from alien sound effects leading into The Rifle’s Spiral, to gorgeous violin work on Saint Simon and the flawless musical transition from that to the maraca lead funk of No Way Down.
And Mercer hardly needed stories and jokes to get reactions out of people, the mere opening chords of So Says I or Phantom Limb (which was helped by violet strobes) winning over the masses. The best moment was saved to the end of the set, with the extended intro to Sleeping Lessons, in which drummer Joe Plummer ventured out from behind the kit to jingle some bells in introduction, leading into the idyllic pop experience of Sleeping Lessons; a track that finally had those previously too hip to move dancing in what little space they had, and demonstrated a flawless vocal delivery from Mercer.
At the highest point of the set, it should have all ended there. But, expectedly, there was an encore to follow. The tried and true solo acoustic rendition was the first ingredient to said encore, and whilst a little predictable, Mercer’s delivery of September was a nice touch to break things up. Port of Morrow followed, and coupled with the previous track quickly brought the mood down from the bliss of the main set’s finish. In a moody conclusion, things were ending on the bleaker side, before the lengthy, self indulgent jam outro One By One All Day really ended things sourly.
With the exception of the encore and Mercer’s reluctance to engage with the crowd, The Shins showed their strengths in force at Festival Hall, proving why they’ve been missed on our shores. With plenty of new material on show and a fine selection of each of their other albums (the split between the other three was about the same), new and old fans certainly got what they came for, and can vouch for those heading to Byron Bay that they’ve got a treat in store.