The Shins were a nice indie-pop band in the early 2000’s when they had a huge breakthrough thanks to being featured in Zach Braff’s Garden State, with Natalie Portman’s character literally saying, “This band will change your life.” Their overnight success was both akin to the film soundtrack-induced booms of the late twentieth century, and the viral artist-namecheck/corporate-placement booms of the early twenty-first century.
Yet this hasn’t defined The Shins, at least not completely. Main man James Mercer left his indie label, left the rest of his band, worked with the likes of Danger Mouse as Broken Bells (QRO album review), and has recruited a rotating cast of characters behind him for his last two records, 2012’s Port of Morrow (QRO review) and this year’s Heartworms (QRO review). His sound has managed to evolve with these synth-based times, yet not abandon the guitar base (like many trying-to-keep-up-with-the-times contemporaries). And if the audience at Capitol Theatre (QRO venue review) in Port Chester on Sunday, November 5th did distinctly lean towards those whose lives were changed by Garden State over a decade ago, it made for a wonderful and inclusive show.
Located closer to the Connecticut border than the five boroughs, and many stops into Metro-North’s Stamford line (at least on a weekend off-peak night), Capitol Theatre’s interior might resemble the grand New York City concert venues like Radio City Music Hall (QRO venue review) or Kings Theatre (QRO venue review), the latter of which The Shins had played two nights earlier, but it’s still a suburban concert space that pulls a suburban crowd (though there were a number waiting for the 11:17 PM train back to the city after the show – one wonders if the acts there are told that they should finish before then…). Combine that with The Shins’ initial Garden State fan base that have grown older & wealthier, it did make for an upper market crowd.
While touring off of Heartworms, The Shins did not shirk for the older material for the older crowd, opening the night with Garden State’s own “Caring Is Creepy” off of 2001’s debut Oh Inverted World. Still, after “Australia” from 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow, the backdrop behind the band dropped to reveal a Heartworms-inspired artsy skull for that record’s “Name For You”. But then came a three-peat from 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow, long time favorites “Kissing the Lipless”, “Mine’s Not a High Horse”, and “Gone For Good”. It was only in the middle of the set that Heartworms dominated, and the crowd did get a little chattering during the softer “Mildenhall”, where Mercer sung of his own discovery of music, but there was also some great up-down lights during the chorus of “Half a Million”.
The show returned to the late greats with “Phantom Limb” from 2007’s Wincing the Night Away (QRO review), which had audience hand-waving and Mercer pointing his mike to the crowd during the chorus. Into the encore break was the only number from Morrow, “Simple Song”, which is simply that record’s best, a wonderful anthem and summing up of all that is The Shins. The encore return opened up with Heartworms’ “The Fear”, but of course there was also “New Slang” (the other Shins song on the Garden State soundtrack), closing with Wincing’s epic uplift “Sleeping Lessons”, where Mercer wedged in a bit of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in tribute to that true late great.
The Shins are always going to a bit be that band you fell in love with way back when (especially if you’re old enough to have moved to the suburbs), but that’s mostly because they still keep being a band to fall in love with.