Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Shins @ Liberty Hall (2/12/07)

I don't know if you are aware of this, but the Shins are kind of a big deal. I learned this fact the hard way when the Shins came to town way back in November of 2003. The band's sophomore album, Chutes Too Narrow had been in stores for only a month, and while I knew of the hype surrounding the band's first album, the second one didn't seem to be resonating with fans quite as much. I based this fact on, what, not hearing the new material on KJHK. Had I just thought rationally for a moment I would have known that I was wrong. That, and it-band-of-the-year The Rapture was opening (I know, I'm still just as confused as to how or why as you). I was even warned by a reliable source that the show would sell out, which should have served as a premonition, but I did not listen. My logic told me that if I could get Mars Volta tickets the day before their show only a month prior, then there would be no problem for me to go right up to the venue on a cold, rainy, Sunday night and get inside the Shins concert. I was convinced, CONVINCED of this, and boy, was I wrong.

Obviously, I learned my lesson. In April of 2005, when tickets for the Shins spring tour went on sale, I immediately snatched mine up. There was no way I was taking any risks this time, and its a good thing too, because, surprise surprise, the show sold out in a couple of weeks (which might not sound impressive, but trust me, for Lawrence, it is. It would take a huge, and I mean HUGE band to sell out a show in a day there, and typically the huge bands don't play a place like Lawrence. The last band that I can honestly think of that sold out in a day, an hour actually, was the Smashing Pumpkins back in 2000. I'm sure there has been one or more since then, but none that I can think of. I'm not even sure if the Beck/Flaming Lips show sold out in a day, though I wouldn't be surprised if it had.). That was even a year and a half after the release of Chutes, and with no new album in sight.

So, when it was announced that the Shins were playing not one, but two shows in the wake of their latest release, Wincing the Night Away, part of me figured it was to accommodate everyone, since only one show would surely sell out. I got tickets ASAP, of course, I knew to take care of business, but I again underestimated the Shins and again, I was wrong. Not only did night one sell out in a few weeks, BOTH shows did. And no, not everyone was accommodated, as evidenced by the stragglers outside the venue, in the middle of the cold rain and later a blizzard, waiting in desperate vain hoping that some kind soul would have a spare ticket to offer.

Needless to say, Liberty Hall was packed. I went with a group of friends as large and as varied as a television high school drama, which made for an excellent time at the brewery next door, but a frustrating experience when trying to squeeze ourselves into the venue and, stubbornly, still try to stay close to each other. It worked, sort of, as we found a spot on the far left on the stairs, which probably violated some fire codes or something, but as big of a deal the Shins have become, a fire probably would have done nothing to scatter the devoted crowd that awaited the band.

We missed Viva Voce in order to get a good buzz going next door, so there was only a mild wait until the main event arrived. My roommate and I were talking earlier about what song they would open with. We both agreed that "Australia" would be a superb way to start the show. When the opening keyboard notes to the song graced my ears and silenced the crowd, I got goosebumps. The first thing you notice about the Shins in concert is (a) Marty is a goofy bastard, and (b) James really can sing. It didn't take long for him to hit his stride vocally; he nailed "Australia" to a tee.

The band played four songs off Wincing to open the night: "Australia", "Sleeping Lessons", the short "Pam Berry" which led into the bands latest single, "Phantom Limb". "Pam Berry" was actually really cool to hear live, and I kind of wish they had rocked the guitars a little longer, a request that doesn't seem all that out of line to ask a band that had a ball rocking out and extending older songs like "One by One All Day", "Pressed In a Book", and "Kissing the Lipless". Unfortunately, "Phantom Limb" didn't sound quite right. Anita Robinson from Viva Voce's added vocals were a little off key with James, and because both were singing together for the first time of the night (she would appear often to add some vocal oomph) the mix was a little off as well. Another problem with the song was that, with Anita on vocals and keyboards, the Shins had three guitar players on the song, and while the three guitar attack works for some bands, "Phantom Limb" ended up sounding more like a sloppy southern rock song than the glossy pop song that had spent 2007 working its way into my heart.

After indulging in the new songs, the band played only three more the rest of the night and opted to focus on some of their top notch older material the rest of the way. While some of the choices were a little obvious (the Garden State songs of course) I must say I was also a little surprised to hear a couple of others, notably "Girl Inform Me" and "Pressed in a Book". I have to admit that I was worried at the beginning of the show that we would not be treated to as many older songs, but by the night's end the set ended up being incredibly balanced. Honestly, there is not one song I was really missing from the older albums, all my absolute favorites got played. "Saint Simon", my all time favorite Shins song, was especially beautiful, and the slower, stripped down version of "Girl on the Wing" were two highlights for me. To be honest, the one song I was really missing was a new one, "Sea Legs". I was not alone, as the song was getting requested left and right by anxious fans, only to fall on deaf ears.

By the end of the night I came to a realization: the Shins looked and sounded the part of the HUGE band, you know, the kind of band I said earlier usually skips Lawrence for bigger, greener pastures. They looked comfortable in that situation as well, and not just because they were stepping into the spotlight for guitar solos. Still, the band never once looked out of touch with the audience either. Their feet are firmly planted on planet Earth, even after Wincing debuted at number 2 and after playing SNL just a little over a week prior to the Lawrence stint. With the kind of adoring and devoted audience(s) waiting for them in Lawrence (and surely in Kansas City too, I have no doubt about that) here's hoping they continue to pay more visits in the future. It would be nice if a local band could put one of our fair midwestern cities on the map, but if the Shins are willing to go to bat for Lawrence in the meantime, you'll hear no complaints out of me.

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