Three Imaginary Girls

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

"How many people here are skipping school?" asked John Fisher, DJ at 103.7 The Mountain.

At least a dozen peeps in the front of the crowd raised their hands and cheered. To which I say, good for them! I'm all kindsa pro-education, but let's face it: nothing learned in a classroom was going to be infinitesimally as remarkable or as memorable as seeing the Shins perform in a neighborhood record store.

But first, let's get this straight: I'm tired of the Shins backlash. And yes, I don't hold TIG blameless when I make that proclamation. But please, can we all agree — no matter what opinions we may hold about the latest Shins record, Wincing the Night Away — that the "changed my life" wisecracks and "Braffed" allegation and all other "Garden State" references — have been completely and utterly played out? I guess loads of indie-kids have been storing up pent-up frustrations against Natalie Portman all these years, but c'mon. Let's consider the complaint acknowledged, read loud and clear, Roger Wilco. Let's move on.

{And really — who among us hasn't had our lives changed by records that other people scoff at? (um, Journey Frontiers?) Portman could've done a lot worse — I'd say she picked it damn well, actually. And I think Zach Braff is cute. So does Char. Sue us.}

Now let's talk about the show.

The whole thing kicked off with James Mercer getting interviewed by Mountain DJ John Fisher… which was fine, I suppose. Mercer was friendly if not a bit uncomfortable, and he seemed more concerned with starting to play his music than providing radio-friendly answers (accidentally saying "shit" in the interview) and seeming otherwise antsy to move on. I was too.

A few snippets from the Q&A, loosely paraphrased by me:

Q: "Are the Shins getting too much love?"
A: "Is there such thing?" And then: "I just don't know what you can do about it… you're not going to hold it against us, right" And then: "We can't worry about that shit." (oops, radio blunder!)

Mercer also confirmed that the title of their latest record is a reference to insomnia, something he suffers from regularly. He stated that most of the songs were written very late at night. But things are looking up for Mercer. "I got Lunesta," he quipped.

He also apparently writes most of his songs in front of the TV with the sound turned off, and claimed that "TV is like my cigarette smoking."

Then Fisher kindly let Mercer off the interview hook, and the rest of the Shins came on out and they started their absolutely lovely acoustic set. Not only are Mercer's speaking voice and his singing voice so different, but his whole demeanor also changed once the music started. No longer awkward, he became charming and engaged with the crowd.

Here's the setlist, in case you can't read the shorthand in the photo so well…

  1. "St Simon"
  2. "Australia"
  3. "Turn on Me"
  4. "Phantom Limb"
  5. "A Comet Appears"
  6. "New Slang"
  7. "Gone for Good"

And some highlights…

Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats played with them throughout the set, providing the lovely high harmonies. And even more exciting — Sub Pop confirmed that he is indeed an official Shin now, just as imaginary reviewer Tim suspected in his review from the 2/18 performance at the Paramount!

The band had a piano onstage that was tragically out of my line of vision for the entire set. But I could hear it, and it added such a lush melodic layer to the set, especially during "Turn Me On" from the latest record. I have no idea which Shin was playing it, but I suspect from photographic evidence it was Senor Fruit Bat.

"A Comet Appears" was very pared down, with simple vocals with quiet guitar. It gave me goosebumps.

"Gone for Good" has always been one of my favorite tragic un-love songs, and I was thrilled they picked it to close the set. I can't say anything about it that would do justice to their perfect lyrics: "You want to fight for this love / But honey you cannot wrestle a dove."

You can kinda tell that Mercer is an uptight cute little perfectionist. Even though the performance was fantastic, I'm not sure if he even thought it was good enough. Poor fella. No wonder he needs meds to sleep. But then, I guess when you're capable of producing flawless crystalline pop jams, you must feel compelled to perfect all you do. Myself, I'm happy if I can keep up with the karaoke lyrics. I sleep easy.

There may be a big Shins backlash snarking its way around some local blogs, but it certainly hasn't damped the band's overall reception here in Seattle. They were supposed to just play one show on Sunday night at the Paramount, but ended up adding a second Paramount show and this in-store on Tuesday (with a jaunt up to Vancouver for a show Monday night), and all three shows were packed.

The result is a Mercer that sounds a bit vocally fried, and imaginary reporter Tim reported that he was complaining of hoarseness at Sunday night's show. The Shins should stop being such over-achievers and take a day off, drink some hot tea, and go on vocal rest.

But I'm sure grateful they didn't do that today. If they're going to play three Seattle shows within three days, we figure the least three imaginary girls can do is write about all three. So there ya have it.