There'smore than a whiff of early R.E.M. surrounding the Shins these days.Like Stipe and Co., the Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque quartet possessan unerring knack for cherry-picking the best bits from the past fewdecades of pop rock (Beach Boys, Raspberries, etc.) to create intricatesongs that seem evocative rather than studied. And singer/songwriterJames Mercer's crypto-poetic odes are vague enough to carry meaningwithout explaining the emotions they hint at.
Of course,R.E.M. also backed up their evanescent records with a 200-show-a-yearbar-band live aesthetic. Unburdened by the road-hog gene, the Shinssimply transport their bedroom blasts to the stage. During this benefitshow for a local youth-oriented public-service organization, the Shins'indie nerdiness was in full bloom. Rumpled keyboardist Marty Crandallhopped around like an honor student on the Red Bull/Pixy Stix mealplan, and drummer Jesse Sandoval rocked what appeared to be an entirelyunironic mustache. The boys studiously reproduced most of their twoalbums--Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow--and threw in a cover of "Destroy the Heart" by 120 Minutesdream-poppers the House of Love. Though he's on the wrong side of 30,Mercer's angelic falsetto lent upbeat numbers like "Kissing theLipless" and "Know Your Onion!" an after-school pep-rallyglow--assuming Rivers Cuomo, Brian Wilson, and Robert Pollard are onthe faculty. Few groups can claim anthems with such a weird, giddy-geekaura.
Their ballads, on the other hand, failed to swell to theback of the club, coming off more like sketches than full-bloodedsongs, particularly when presented to a crowd hungry for shouty, happystompers like "Pressed in a Book." They may be tender and all, but theShins' slow ones could use a little van-tested muscle. Mercer hasproved he can write his "It's the End of the World as We Know It." Nowall he needs is a "Nightswimming" and the Shins could be unstoppable.