James Mercer of The Shins called upon folk trio Joseph to join his band on stage. The three sisters stepped gently into an accommodating space to his left and began to harmonize through the soothing yet vaguely haunting vocables that launch the live rendition of “New Slang.”
Performing at The Anthem recently, James turned his sharp eyes to the audience and began to strum his guitar. He eased into the lyrics of “New Slang,” which hails from the 2001 debut album of The Shins — Oh, Inverted World. Although the song’s narrator is lost and unhappy, there is something very reassuring in Mercer’s comforting voice and unharrowed stage presence.
At The Anthem on Aug. 19, James lent this authenticity to all 11 songs of Oh, Inverted World, as he and The Shins were in DC to celebrate the album’s 21st birthday with a North American tour. Throughout the show, James, clad in a linen suit, maintained this level coolness. He appeared easygoing and pensive, and he moved in a deliberately grounded way that belied the often painful messages of the album’s tunes.
Take Oh, Inverted World’s “Caring Is Creepy,” which began the show, for example. The song is about a failed relationship. Mercer infused the song with a vital urgency, a good quality for opening the album and also this show, yet Mercer is more wounded than angry. There was an unshakeable kindness to his voice and a warmth to his face that challenged the circumstances described in the song. This was a man connected to his feelings.
Watch The Shins perform “Caring Is Creepy” by The Shins on Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube:
Joseph contributed backing vocals to many of the songs of Oh, Inverted World, and it was brilliant employment of sisters Natalie Closner Schepman, Allison Closner, and Meegan Closner. They effortlessly went from center of stage for their opening set to clicking right into The Shins for with their vocal support. Their harmonies eased the very big crowd of The Anthem into place and calmed us all.
After the first set of 11 songs, Joseph stepped away, and The Shins carried on with another nine songs drawn from four other albums. Of these, James and company favored 2007’s Wincing the Night Away with four three selections, including a showstopping performance of “Sleeping Lessons” that The Shins mixed with Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Focused, the band sonically wandered into the cozy melodies of “Sleeping Lessons,” only to drop the beat after a few minutes and blaze through the final verse of the song. Unrelenting at this point, The Shins dove right into “American Girl.”
Drummer Jon Sortland deserved a lot of credit for that punchy transition and the resulting crescendo. Jon’s big presence at the back of the stage almost served as a counterbalance to James’ thoughtful countenance at the front of the stage. Apparently, Jon joined the band in 2016, along with keyboardist Patti King. While this was my first time catching The Shins, both musicians were completely in their element and very much at ease. They were meant to be there.
Bassist Yuuki Matthews, a member of The Shins since 2011, likewise fit the scene. He and guitarist Mark Watrous, a contributor since 2014, filled out the sound with smooth, soulful performances.
The Shins remain on tour for much of the next four weeks, and they are sure to soothe your soul *and* lift your spirits all at once with their thoughtful, articulate music.
Here are some photos of The Shins performing at The Anthem in DC on Aug. 19, 2022. All pictures copyright Parklife DC.