Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

I was excited when I left my apartment on Sunday en route to the Shins show at the Paramount Theatre. I've had their first two albums Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow for quite some time and like so many fans, added Wincing the Night Away the day it was released. However, I'd never seen them live (well, maybe once when they opened for Modest Mouse many moons ago but I'm fairly confident I was in the bar, and not, in fact watching The Shins). My life has changed several times since I first purchased Oh, Inverted World but I haven't been able to directly correlate these changes to The Shins "New Slang," despite what Natalie Portman claims in Garden State. I thought maybe I would be able to fulfill the Portman Prophecy if I was to see "New Slang" live.

Show openers Viva Voce gave a hellava show. I think the Bible says something or another about not coveting thy neighbor's lady. I think there may even be a straight-to-hell clause in there if the husband of said lady is sitting eight feet to her right behind a drum kit. Biblical ramifications or no, it's impossible to not fall under Anita Robinson's spell.

When Viva Voce tore into the title track of their new album Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, Mrs. Robinson's guitar solo was as impressive as any you'll ever hear. Later in the set she switched to a double-neck guitar, sending visions of bad Van Halen videos streaming through my mind (in a good way). Not to be outdone, her husband Kevin pounded the drum kit with ferocious intensity before stopping to pick up an acoustic guitar and dedicate "Special Thing" to all the lovers in the crowd. They closed the set with the heart warming "We Do Not Fuck Around" — and I can honestly say I have never seen anything so sexy in my life as a woman with a double neck guitar singing/yelling "We Don't Fuck Around!"

The crowd started to swell after Viva Voce left the stage and the late arrivals began to file in. It was a packed house; the demand for Shins tickets in Seattle was so great that the Shins forfeited a day off to add this show to their schedule (they headed to Vancouver for a date at the Commodore Ballroom on 2/19 before returning to Seattle for another show at the Paramount, along with an in-store performance at Easy Street Records on Tuesday, 2/20).

The Shins took the stage in the dark, and as soon as the first note of "Sleeping Lessons" was heard, a giant version of their Dr. Seuss meets M.C. Escher album cover for Wincing the Night Away illuminated behind them. Smatterings of passionate Shins fans jumped and sang along with lead singer James Mercer. As always, the two biggest super fans were standing directly in front of me, writhing around and throwing their hands up as if at some sort of Baptist Revival. The first four songs of the set followed in accordance with Wincing's first four tracks, causing me to wonder if we were going to witness one of those rare "play the album in its entirety" type of shows. But after "Phantom Limb," the Shins deviated from the new record to play "Kissing the Lipless," at which point my two super fans decided it was time to get high. In a classic 'My First Marijuana' moment, I watched them attempt to shoo the smoke away in order to remain inconspicuous. In any case, I was happy to see them stoned, if for no other reason then to keep them from bouncing around and shaking their hands in the air in the praise Jesus fashion as previously described.

And then it happens: my life was changed as the Shins broke into "New Slang." I didn't feel any tingling or dizziness; maybe it's not an immediate change. What was changed was the tempo of the song; "New Slang" was slower and stripped down for this live performance. The obligatory rock show lighters came out, signifying the song's place as an indie-rock monster ballad.

The Shins played tight, sounding as if they were played directly off the albums, although Mercer's voice was a little gruff. At one point in the show he jokingly told the crowd that if we thought his voice was off, we should clean out our ears. The Fruit Bats' Eric Johnson was onstage with the band and contributed to every song, leading me to wonder if his participation with the Shins will be so limited as a simple backing credit on their next album. By the time they closed their set with a rocking rendition of "Caring is Creepy," my super fans were jumping around and wiggling with the spirit again. The Shins then returned to the stage for the obligatory encore, ending the show with an up-tempo version of "So Says I" before sending the crowd out, wincing into the night.