Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Shins @ Kentish Town Forum

It’s a dreamy start in the Kentish Town Forum. The Shins open their first London set in five years with a stripped-back version of Chutes Too Narrow favourite ‘Kissing The Lipless’, all plinky-plonky xylophone sounds, spotlights and strained vocals. And though it starts deliberately softly, the crowd are right there in full voice by about the third line; there’s a lot of love in the room tonight.

In the last half-decade, lead singer and guitarist James Mercer has been busy with other projects (Broken Bells and, erm, his family). He’s replaced the entire line-up of his band since Wincing The Night Away and signed the new recruits up to his own record label, Aural Apothecary. It’s a harsh-sounding turn of events on paper, but then again, Mercer’s always been the axis round which The Shins revolved, and anyway the unfamiliar cast is very well received indeed. ‘So Says I’ is second up and receives the kind of applause most would be happy with for their second-to-last song. In this opening section there are a few mistakes, a few missed beats and half-forgotten lines, granted, but nobody seems to care. Certainly not The Shins, who strum straight through it in their stride.

‘Australia’ is an obvious crowd-pleaser and completes a trio of classics before introducing material from new album Port Of Morrow. This is the real test of the new line up, and they pass with aplomb: the big riffs of ‘Simple Song’ stand up well next to their back catalogue, and sound instantly anthemic. Later, the synth-heavy ‘Rifle’s Spiral’ is pleasingly moody-indie, also sitting seamlessly in the set.

They really get into gear in the middle section, though, and there are no more missed changes. The already revved-up crowd responds accordingly: James looks momentarily taken aback when the crowd jumps all over the la-la-las of ‘Saint Simon’ — and then lets them get on with it. The same thing happens during ‘New Slang’, when the oohs of the crowd drown out those coming from the stage.

Mercer’s been understated all evening, but when the band walks back out for that rarest of things, the well-earned encore, he takes some time to talk — it seems he’s missed us, too. They end that encore with the enormous ‘Sleeping Lessons’, and people are calling their loved ones and holding their phones up to the stage; it’s that sort of gig. Ultimately the change of personnel hardly seems to matter, James Mercer and his replacement Shins seem to have grasped the importance of this long-awaited moment — and that’s all you can really ask from any live performance...


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