The Shins. Red Rocks. 05.29.12

There were many choices when it came to live music last night, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a hard time trying to figure out what direction to go.  There was the sexed-up nostalgic circus with Jane’s Addiction at the Fillmore; there was the politic-infused dance party with Santigold at the Ogden, and there was a strong line-up of buzz worthy folk bands opening for the resurrected indie pop icons, The Shins, at Red Rocks. 

Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual will always mean more to me than the first couple Shins albums, but I saw Jane’s in the 90’s, so I was afraid they might not live up to the memory I have of them in their younger years.  I also try to avoid the Fillmore whenever possible.  Santigold would have been a party, but I also knew if I met up with those friends, I would have woken up on a couch with a throbbing headache and some serious dehydration.  So in the end, I chose location over friends and (current) personal tastes.  Weathering permitting, Red Rocks is a great time no matter who is on the stage, and last night’s forecast was for clear skies.

In my excitement to start the season, I arrived at the amphitheatre early enough to park up top, forgoing the climbing that is a necessary evil with most Red Rocks shows.  Taking advantage of t-shirt weather, I spent the next hour hanging out among the rocks and the growing crowd of tailgaters, enjoying homemade cocktails and craft beer.  It was about 6:30pm when I remembered I had a GA ticket, and seeing as the show sold-out, I figured it would be a good time to head in and get a spot.  I got settled in the middle of the 21st row in what I figured would be a perfect spot.  I would have been a little closer if two guys weren’t trying hold two full rows for ‘all their friends‘, which didn’t seem worth arguing about.  Eventually another group ignored their claim on the seats and took ’em anyway.  So is life at a GA Red Rocks show.

Blind Pilot came on at 7:00pm on the dot and performed for a half hour.  I had never heard the six-piece folk outfit from Portland, OR, but the crowd had.  The seats were packing in quick, as girls young and old were on their feet clapping and singing along.  Most of the songs sounded like all the other groups making this kind of music today, but “The Colored Night” and the set-closer, “We Are The Tide”, really highlighted Israel Nebeker’s vocal range.

Overall, it was a good opening set from a band with a promising career ahead of them.

The Head and the Heart were up next.  This six-piece, hailing from just up the road from Blind Pilot, in Seattle, Washington, is a band I had heard before.  Their 2010 self-titled debut was remastered and released by Sub Pop last year to glowing reviews.  I wasn’t a huge fan of many songs on the album, but “Lost in My Mind” and “Down in the Valley” were two of my favorites.  “Down in the Valley” in particular, with its sing-along ‘oh-oh-oh-oh‘ and lyrics about drown dreams and place never seen, really appealed to my love of good storytelling in songwriting.  I just hadn’t realized how big they had gotten over the past year.  They held a captive audience of thousands, moving as one to every song.  It had amazed me that The Shins could sell over 9,000 tickets when Jane’s Addiction couldn’t sell 3,000, but after seeing the early arrivals for The Head and the Heart, I believe this young band might have played a big part in the selling out of the show.  And although nothing about their set made me like them any more or less than I already had, I have to admit that “Down in the Valley” might have been my highlight of the whole night, including The Shins set.

Having seen Death Cab, Modest Mouse, and all those other ‘indie’ rock and pop bands that came to light in the early-00’s, I am surprised I never got around to seeing The Shins.  Although their music never changed my life, as Natalie Portman had promised, I was a fan of Oh, Inverted World and an even bigger fan of Chutes Too Narrow.  I guess the opportunity just never presented itself.  By the time Wincing The Night Away had been released, I had lost interest. I had moved on.  But Mercer’s return to form with his new band and album, Port Of Morrow, is as amazing as it is shocking.  While those other bands continue to release subpar albums, The Shins are back in full force, with a line-up and album that is (almost) as good as anything that came before.  Therefore, I was very much looking forward to their set.

Taking the stage right around 9:00pm, they got off to a rocky start. Opening with an unbalanced “Kissing The Lipless”, Mercer called for a do-over, starting the song over from the beginning.  That would be the first and last fuck up of the night.  From that point forward The Shins proved themselves to be seasoned professionals — growing from that jangle pop band you loved as a kid into a full fledged rock band worthy of playing the stage at Red Rocks — a stage Mercer admitted to being ‘a big deal‘, based on growing up with much love for U2.

The set was a mix of songs old and new, every one of them inciting crowd participation in the form of clapping, dancing, stomping and singing along.  The new songs sounded great, while the older songs brought back memories of days that do not seem like they were over a decade over.  “Simple Song”, “So Says I” and “Saint Simon” were highlights from the first half.  “No Way Down” was ‘changed up a bit‘ and the ‘somewhat of a deep cut, “Sphagnum Esplanade” went over well with the crowd, but it wasn’t until well into the second half of the show before anything from Oh, Inverted World showed up in the set.  And by that time, I had made my way up top…

One of the things I will never understand about GA shows at Red Rocks are the people who think it’s ok to stand on their seat.  Especially the ones that have the nerve to say ‘It’s GA!‘ when you ask them to move.  A GA show means you get to pick any open seat and you are free to stand up in front of that seat.  It does not mean you can stand on your seat and block the person in the row behind you (the row in which you are now standing).  It also doesn’t mean you can bring all your friends in to stand on your seat and talk about your ex-boyfriend through the headlining set.  I might sound old here, but seriously, dumb chicks should stay home.

OK, enough with my rant.  I watched the last part of the show from the top of the venue, which was great.  The view of the band and the crowd, framed by the monoliths, with the city out in the distance is unexplainable. The new sound system and video wall do wonders for experiencing the show from a distance as well!  “Know Your Onion!”, “New Slang”, and “Caring Is Creepy” (with OG’s from original Shins line-up) were enough for me to figure I had gotten my money’s worth, so I walked to my car to the sounds of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” — happy with the show, but even more with the thought of the shows to come.

Overall The Shins put on a great show, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t leave a little disappointed.  There was something missing in the set, I just don’t know what it is.  I can honestly say I enjoyed the Broken Bells show more that this, which is just wrong.  But all that aside, it was a great night at Red Rocks — a great start to the season.  It is fitting that the real star of the show was the venue itself, because that’s exactly why I chose it.

The Shins:
Kissing the Lipless
Australia
Simple Song
Bait And Switch
So Says I
Pam Berry
The Rifle’s Spiral
Saint Simon
No Way Down
Sphagnum Esplanade
Mine’s Not A High Horse
It’s Only Life
Know Your Onion!
40 Mark Strasse
New Slang
Port Of Morrow
Sleeping Lessons

Caring Is Creepy
Breathe (Pink Floyd cover)
Pressed in a Book