The Shins: Celebrity Theater, Phoenix, AZ – 4/11/07

An eclectic mix of solemn indie rockers and enthralled teenage girls made up the crowd at Celebrity Theater on Wednesday, April 11. While many shows in Phoenix fail to draw the numbers expected by avid music fans, The Shins were welcomed by a lively sellout audience for an "in the round" performance.

The evening began with an alternately melodious and thunderous set by the Portland-based duo Viva Voce. Anita and Chris Robinson sounded much larger than they looked, and the couple infused the theater with their reckless energy in no time. Anita sang sweetly while rocking on her pink guitar and Chris shook his long locks behind the drums. The crowd clapped along at Anita’s prompting during "From the Devil Himself," a single off their acclaimed release Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, and were noticeably revved up by the end of Viva Voce’s performance. 

Yet there was no question as to whom people had come to see. When The Shins took the stage, all 360 degrees of the circular theater were out of their seats. Without any acknowledgment of the crowd, the group began immediately with the wistful, electronic opening of "Sleeping Lessons," the first song off 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. They proceeded with several more songs from Wincing, including the infectious "Phantom Limb," during which Anita Robinson joined the band onstage to sing backup vocals. Though The Shins lyrics can be elusive, the crowd made a heartened attempt to sing along and was certainly audible during the “oh, eh, oh” chorus at the end of "Phantom Limb."

 Dressed in button-down shirts, and James Mercer himself in a tie, the band members looked young and unassuming, like old friends surprised by new fame. Mercer did not speak at all, leaving most of the crowd-hyping to his bassist Dave Hernandez, until about six songs in when he announced, “Ok, time for an album change.” Yet Mercer’s inviting voice was a strong force in the show. Unlike the somewhat overproduced echoes on Wincing, Mercer’s vocals were undeniably honest and lucid, making the night’s rendition of "Saint Simon" a transcendental experience. Several songs from Chutes Too Narrow had the audience raising lighters and cell phones and reveling in Mercer’s comfortable vocals. 

While the live arrangements did not stray much from the CD recordings, The Shins showcased their versatility with an outstanding cover of Pink Floyd’s "Breathe." They recreated the familiar, psychedelic sound with ease in what many would call the highlight of the evening. After the set, the band left for nearly seven minutes before returning for the encore. This might have seemed self-aggrandizing coming from some bands, but when The Shins re-emerged grinning with beers and t-shirts, their humility was more apparent than ever. They finished the evening with the guitar-driven "So Says I," leaving the audience humming all the way out the door. 

 Not many bands have found a way to fuse rock, poetic lyrics, and catchy pop tunes, yet The Shins are on the verge of perfecting the art. While their talent may not lie in a dramatic stage presence, their live show is a must-see for those who want to experience musical precision and a soon-to-be classic song set.

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