Live Review: The Shins, Philadelphia, PA, May 16, 2009

shinslive550bA concert venue featuring crooning indie-rock superstars the Shins was the perfect environs for serial-monogamist hipsters to bring their girlfriend/boyfriend of the moment. You could almost hear some of them squealing, “That’s our song!” when the band played “New Slang.” The newly revamped Shins—longtime members Marty Crandall and Jesse Sandoval have been replaced by Ron Lewis (Grand Archives, Fruit Bats) and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse)—performed an alternately poppy and mellow set that suited the implicit date-night atmosphere at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. Sentimentality poured from the speakers and riveted the audience, as giddy teens and balding boomers alike contemplated their sunset-and-margaritas-swilling trip down the shore two years ago.

Singer/guitarist James Mercer’s multi-faceted, octave-hopping voice penetrated bone marrow as the Shins segued from the jangly, carbonated “Know Your Onion!” to the musical NyQuil of “Weird Divide,” which gave me an urge to trudge to the lounge area and fight for a futon inside the cabanas at the back of the Factory. Listening to the cerebral lyrics of past albums such as 2001’s Oh, Inverted World and 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, I’d envisioned each group member sporting a James Lipton goatee and smoking a well-hewn pipe. While only Mercer had a beard, the band’s witty onstage banter and brown corduroys made me feel like I was in a debate-club meeting at Dartmouth College.

The Shins provided plenty of non-offensive tweaks and surprises, from a funky, Bonnaroo Festival version of “Sea Legs” to new material that sounded like a Shins-ified Austin Powers theme song. Even though you’d be hard-pressed to interpret any of Mercer’s lyrics as romantically inclined, the Shins sear an emotional brand into your brain that makes favorable associations inevitable. Those hipsters definitely knew what they were doing when they took their significant others to the show.

—Maureen Coulter

“Know Your Onion!” (download):

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