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The Shins: Live at Seattle’s Neumo’s Crystal Ball Reading Room

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.