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Scoop Review: The Shins At The Kings Arms

Scoop Review: The Shins - Kings Arms, 16, 17 February 2005

Review By Scotty Read

My partner and I – always keen to discover safe havens from the packaged, soulless, globalising behemoth, blocking out the sun and dominating much of the contemporary musical landscape – were introduced to the Shins a few years ago her like-minded Melbourne based sibling, and we were instantly taken by the slightly offbeat guitar pop offerings of the now Portland based four-piece. Now, I’m not really a proponent of pigeon-holing artists, but Hugh can always be relied on to provide tip-offs for those who are fond of groups residing, creatively at least, in the vicinity of the alternative flavoured Flaming Lips, Wilco, Elbow, Modest Mouse, The Thrills et al.

So it was no surprise to see them rate a recent mention in the leg-humpingly memorable waiting room scene of Zach Braff’s (you know, Co-Chief Resident JD from Scrubs) enjoyable independent film Garden State, in addition to the relevant lines being delivered by the Golden Globe winning talents of Natalie Portman no less. (No doubt Damien Rice can also vouch for the positive spin off of having his own connection to the creative integrity of Ms Portman in Closer). Not surprisingly the Shins then find themselves in the midst of a recent surge of sales to the uninitiated of 2001’s Oh, Inverted World, and 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow – both albums playing their part in a rejuvenation of Seattle’s Sub Pop label.

Here in New Zealand, the band’s first scheduled show at the Kings Arms in Auckland on the Thursday sold out, so a second show at this venue was arranged, unusually, for the night before. (Additionally, the student populations of Otago, Canterbury, and Victoria will have a chance to sample them during orientation activities). The quirky, idiosyncratic talents of the supporting Brunettes (nine strong in their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink live format) initially had the audience firmly engaged, especially with a nicely crafted rendition of the title track to Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks.

With the customary technical glitches out of the way, the Shins then put on a show that will undoubtedly have the punters recollecting 2005 as the year they heard one of the best live acts around. From the moment multi-tasking keyboardist/guitarist/human bagel Marty Crandall announced ‘let’s have some fun’ through to the rapturous encore, the warm and appreciative audience savoured the creativity and distinctive high end vocals of James Mercer (who is no doubt sick of being told he is a dead ringer for Kevin Spacey) built on the solid and often staccato foundations of drummer Jesse Sandoval, and the raw intensity of Dave Hernandez on bass. The evening covered most of their catalogue, highlights including a few three minute specials like Kissing The Lipless, some quiet time with Young Pilgrims and Pink Bullets, and my favourite sing-along Turn a Square.

It’s hard to believe that some of these guys in their early years were once labelled as being pretty lazy, as the professionalism and tightness of this 80 minute set smacked only of an inherent humour and pride in their work, accurate rehearsal, and rock musicianship par excellence. The Shins promised to return to NZ in about a year as they seemed genuinely gracious, thankful, and overwhelmed at the great response they have had here so far. $25? You must be joking. Cheap at thrice the price. Inspiring.

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