The Shins are in a precarious position. With two critically celebrated albums to their credit and an ever-increasing public profile, the band is poised for higher exposure. One of the essential steps on this journey is a move beyond rock clubs to larger venues. For the Albuquerque-bred quartet, Friday night's sold-out show at the Roxy proved an initially daunting, but ultimately achievable, task.
Taking the stage, the band members seemed awed by the crowd, and keyboardist Marty Crandall excitedly called out, "We're going to play you some jams." They then launched into an instrumental that was equal parts bulky guitar and dreamy keyboards before segueing to "Pressed In A Book." It was here that the group's inexperience in such a large venue showed as the song concluded with a sludgy mess of drums and guitar.
They then moved into "Kissing The Lipless" and while the handclaps and brief exultation that start the recorded version were duplicated, the mix was once again muddy, obscuring singer James Mercer's ringing high notes. This theme continued on "Mine's Not A High Horse" as the drums were positioned so prominently and the guitars so surprisingly brawny that some of the song's intricacies were lost.
At this point it was hard not to think that despite its undeniable studio prowess, the band's stumbling block might be replicating fragile melodies in a big room.
Yet to the young act's credit it soldiered on, striking sonic gold for the first time on "Girl, Inform Me." At this point the rhythm section worked with the keyboards rather than obscuring them, and the first signs of comfort began to show on stage.
From there the show accelerated without hesitation. Anchored by Mercer's acoustic guitar, and tastefully soft drumming from Jessie Sandoval, "Pink Bullets" was a treasure. "Turn A Square" was a straight-ahead rocker with Crandall taking up the bass, allowing Dave Hernandez to provide second guitar. The band's first widely known song, "New Slang," was achingly beautiful, with the crowd held in rapt attention.
A rootsy sensibility highlighted the rambling "Gone For Good" and the result was a swinging sing-along. Concluding their set with "So Says I," the band delivered the song as a pulsing mod rocker. With the crowd delighted to sing the higher notes, Mercer was free to punch a more ragged vocal and the result was terrific.
By the time the group appeared for an encore, they looked and sounded completely at home on the large stage. Delivering fan favorites "Caring Is Creepy" and "Know Your Onion!" the Shins proved that rather than rest on their laurels, they could press on with a determination that bodes well for their performance future.