|James Mercer (pictured at a Madison Square Garden concert in New York in March) and the Shins rocked the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday. (Scott Gries/Getty Images/File)|
Shins offer a nod to the past
You can tell a lot about a band by the artists they choose to cover, as their influences and aspirations sometimes shine through the spaces.
Shine was certainly the key word Wednesday night at the Orpheum Theatre as the Shins enlivened an already beguiling 100-minute set by judiciously devoting prime real estate to three of its antecedents: eternal summer surfers the Beach Boys; harmonious troubadours Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and British sonic mavericks the Beta Band.
If you combine those three artists, you essentially have the Shins, an adventurous band rooted in great pop traditions fronted by a singer, James Mercer, with uncommon vocal grace and sweetness. He's intimately familiar with the concept that sadness can shimmer.
That the amiable Portland, Ore., quintet retained the shiver-up-your-spine essence of each one of its covers - "Girl Don't Tell Me," "Helpless," and "Dry the Rain," respectively - while simultaneously and indelibly stamping them with its own sound was an impressive feat that exuded loving fandom.
In particular, "Girl Don't Tell Me," the Beach Boys song, with its bittersweet twilight-of-summer theme offset by a pulsating tempo, felt like a wellspring from which other Shins' tunes flowed including the lilting "Phantom Limb," the night's first singalong, and the gently cooed encore "New Slang." "Helpless" ached with wistfulness multiplied by four-part harmony. And "Dry the Rain" built slowly to a hypnotic, clattering groove and was one of several songs to balance austere beginnings of just percussion and languid guitar licks with tumultuous climaxes.
The band's new additions - deft drummer Joe Plummer, late of Modest Mouse, and former Fruit Bats keyboardist Ron Lewis - meshed well as the group offered vintage tracks like "Caring Is Creepy" and "Sea Legs," which got a quirky rhythmic makeover, and a couple of new tunes that exhibited an inclination toward zippier tempos.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.