Review: The Shins' Florida debut a vibrant, colorful experience at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg
Was it worth the wait, St. Petersburg? Did the Shins change your life?
Sorry to be the 8 billionth person to trot out that old Garden State cliché, but you have to understand: That movie came out in 2004, by which point the Shins had been going for nearly a decade. And until their concert Saturday at Jannus Live, the beloved indie rockers had never played a single show in Florida. So we all had a lot of catching up to do.
“What took us so long, right?” singer James Mercer told the extremely sold-out crowd at their first and only Florida concert. “But here we are.”
Whatever earnest, heart-on-sleeve reputation the Shins might have cultivated over the past couple of decades, this gig showed Sunshine State fans just how much more they’ve been missing. It was a night of deep sound and rich color, from Mercer’s multitasking bandmates following his hyperactive lead to a multihued stage overflowing with colorful flowers.
A lot of the vibrancy came courtesy of numbers from their new album Heartworms (“Kinda gross, right” Mercer said of the title. “Life’s kind of gross. Gross and beautiful”), whose oddball energy pulsed all night on tracks like the driving So Now What, the angular psych-fest Painting a Hole and the insistently all-over-the-place Half a Million. Say what you will about bands who pile on the new stuff, but here it not only worked, it brought rollicking electricity to the set.
That said, nothing got the couples in the crowd singing and swaying and dancing like songs from the band’s first four albums. From the endearing passion of Kissing the Lipless to the harmonious California beach-pop of Phantom Limb to the bright and effusive Australia, fans were la-la-la’ing and whoa-wah-oh'ing and ooh-ooh-oohing to most of the Shins’ most recognizable tracks. None sent phones into the air like New Slang, one of this century’s perfect little pop songs, a sweet and simple mix of Western twang and Brooklyn songwriterly sensitivity.
Mercer, the band’s sole founding member and driving creative force, seemed almost gleeful at times, clapping and bouncing on his toes during Girl Inform Me, dancing a little Watusi on Painting a Hole and praising all the “audience participaish” on Mine’s Not a High Horse. His melodic yelp scaled up and down the harmonies provided by the fans and his bandmates on the swirling Saint Simon and dusty, dreamy Mildenhall. When the band emerged from the green room for the encore, Mercer did so riding atop the back of guitarist Mark Watrous, waving a red Solo cup high in the air.
That wasn’t the only way the band carried its weight. Mercer’s Shins these days are an overqualified bunch, switching instruments when needed to give each song a rich texture. Gone For Good got a little cowboy-lullaby makeover, all sweet and winsome with Watrous on slide guitar. How many bands could have three members form a little string trio for one song, as Watrous, Casey Foubert (guitars) and Patti King (keys) did for the rich and luminous The Fear?
The band showed Florida lots of love, even dropping part of Tom Petty's American Girl into closer Sleeping Lessons (a trick they pull everywhere, but here, it absolutely elt personal), and the crowd did the same, as Mercer noted after an audience-wide sing-along on Phantom Limb.
“You guys are a bunch of music lovers,” he said. “That song is for all the music lovers.”
So were the Shins worth the wait? For all those music lovers in the courtyard, especially the arm-in-arm date-nighters whose lives the Shins’ music likely did change for the better, the answer was a joyous yes. It took them a while to get here, but the impression they left won't soon be forgotten. It might even change a few lives.
-- Jay Cridlin