Friday, 12 May 2017

The Shins - Paradiso, 30 March 2017

The Shins seems like the poetic place to start writing again on VP Music Blog.

Over a period of about two and a half years we attended exactly 100 live shows and wrote exactly 99 reviews. For all the experiences, opinions, theories, and emotions that we tried to convey from these shows, there was one that left us.... speechless?

Not speechless in the blown away sense, more in the... uninspired sense.

That show was The Shins, at the Melkweg in March 2012. We got a couple of great shots of James Mercer but words escaped us.

James Mercer back in March 2012

It's not that it was a bad show - that would have been fun to write about. They played the songs we had wanted, the sound was good, the lights were good. It was just a bit... uninspiring...

Five years later and here they were again. The temptation of the Paradiso was too strong and with some good friends who were keen, I signed up again for another try.

The verdict? Better, but there is still something about the Shins that I just can't put my finger on.

Let's get the basics out of the way - the show was good. Lighting good, sound good, setlist good, venue awesome. It was almost clinically good. Soullessly good. They hit the stage within seconds of the 8.30 start time and were off again equally efficiently at 9.30, returning a few minutes later for a well planned 3 song encore.

They opened the show with Kissing the Lipless. The same as the 2012 show and as far as I know, the same song they open almost all of their shows with. And they did seem to be having more fun than last time, where I really can't recall the band saying anything more than thank you to the audience for the majority of the show. This time there was some good banter early on and the band seemed happy and relaxed, with some fun inside jokes about Yuuki Mathews "rock radius" requirements for his stage space.

So what is my problem with The Shins? I think it comes down to two main things:

The first are the songs. Despite being critically acclaimed and James Mercer being held in highest regard as a song writer, they are often hard songs for a live audience to embrace. The most obvious example of this is New Slang, which was played in the encore and got the biggest reaction from the crowd of the night. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard that song and the friend I was there with even had it played at her wedding. But despite all this, the crowd (and I) barely sung along at all. I really watched and listened and there was some humming and mumbling but that song is so hard to sing and the words are so complicated that it is almost impossible to join in.

This isn't an essential element of a live show but I think combined with the lack of banter from the band it adds to the lack of interaction and intimacy between the band and their audience.

The second thing is that clinical approach they seem to bring to their shows. Again, there is nothing wrong with professionalism and not wasting time with countless re-tuning between songs but your also looking for some kind of human element from the band.

No one is more professional than Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street band. They rehearse to within an inch of their lives and they hit the stage prepared for anything. This then allows them to go in any direction, they take request, they play for up to 3 or 4 hour sets every night. Bruce is able to build a certain magic or a certain chemistry between the band and their audience, maybe better than anyone I have ever seen live.

And I think this is what I am missing from a Shins show, based on the two times I have now seem them. They are clinical in their delivery of beautifully written studio songs and while I am generally entertained and have an enjoyable experience I don't feel that same connection to them and the people around me as when I am at a show where the band really make that magic interaction.


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