Monday, March 26, 2007

Oh Mercer!

The Shins/Viva Voce, Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, Monday March 26 2007.

Viva Voce have already gotten started as your correspondent weaves his way into the venue. They're another boy/girl outfit, haven't we had enough of those already? Well, nope, not when they make the decent sort of racket this Portland, Oregon duo are producing. According to the The Shins' Jimmy Mercer, 'Viva Voce take the dream aesthetic of shoe gaze psych pop and beat the living shit out out of it'. Dunno about that (is he after our job, or what?) because, although there are similarities to Joy Zipper before JZ became more enamoured with The Beach Boys than MBV, VV sound more like loud-period Low than anything else, to our ears. In any case, worth finding out for yourself when their new album 'Viva Voce Loves You' is available on CD or as download on June 18.

Last time we saw The Shins was about this time three years ago, playing to a half-full 6Music bash at Brum Academy 2, so it's a measure of their progress since that they have sold out the much bigger Wulfrun Hall tonight. Back in 2004 it was the first leg of their first major tour outside the US and they were in playful mood, but tonight they clearly have a head for business and it's four songs in before we get much of a peep out of any of 'em.

The show starts, brilliantly, with new album opener 'Sleeping Lessons', whose quiet/loud dynamics (imagine a more wistful Wedding Present) kick things into motion from the get-go. While on record this track offers a release from tension that the rest of the album steadily builds back up again without a final payoff, The Shins' live show (up to four guitars playing at a time, plus the girl from Viva Voce adding adhoc backing vox and tambourine tapping) adds sufficient bollocks to their back catalogue that this is not a problem repeated during the concert. 'Australia' and 'Phantom Limb' emerge most emphatically from 'Wincing The Night Away', while the no-mouth all-trousers 'Kissing The Lipless'; 'Turn A Square' (whose skifflerock shuffle pilfers from the Beatles so ruthlessly that Heather Mills McCartney would weep with envy if she ever heard it) and delirious encore 'So Says I' all remain irresistable highlights of their past glories.

There are those that ask, what gives with The Shins? How come they can crossover to mainstream success in the way that contemporaries like The Decemberists and The New Pornographers notably fail? Clearly the 'Garden State' factor has helped them, but contrary to the Natalie Portman character's protestations these are probably the least life-changing band currently in the indie firmament.

But perhaps the question should be looked at from the other way round: why weren't The Shins bigger sooner? They write clean-sounding catchy tunes with literate lyrics and just enough grit to stop them sinking into the MORass, like a Crowded House unsettled by an undertow of subsidence. And in Mercer, they have a fascinating frontman who sings about flirting with 'The Dark Side' on 'Red Rabbits' and the possibility of him following through with this at some point gives them an edge over their rivals, even though for now the sweet melodies and harmonies keep getting in the way.



Blogger Ben said...

Hmm, must investigate Viva Voce (your link doesn't work, BTW...). And is that Shins album in the post? Nudge nudge wink wink!

1:25 AM  
Blogger Phill said...

Kenneth, your puntastic headlines continue to baffle me. I can't quite place where any of the last three are drawn from... Can you enlighten me? Or are you just making them up yourself?

12:55 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Ben, link now fixed (this is what happens when you write up gigs bleary-eyed at 1am) and The Shins CD should be rattling your letterbox by the weekend.

Phill, do try to keep up, although perhaps two out of the three are a little tenuous and obscure -

Oh Mercer! is a riff on the Dylan album Oh Mercy! and the name of The Shins' lead singer.

The New Chris Scene (not my best effort but four StrangeTime gigs in I'm running out of material) references The New Cross Scene (important for a couple of minutes after The Libertines hit big) and new bass player Chris Maher.

Please Don't Tell Me To Boo The Hath is a cheeky reference to the Los Campesinos! track 'Please Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)' and Charlotte's surname, while also giving some indication to the unfairly flat reception given to the talented singer/songwriter on the night.

So there you have it, the madness in my method revealed for the first time...

2:19 PM  
Blogger Phill said...

Kenny - you have far too much time on your hands - or you need to work for the Sun.

Did I tell you I once interviewed The Hath? It's definately one of my top ten - It was in Preston too - what a location for a rock interview!

8:53 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Phill, I'll be sure to include you as a potential referee next time my CV wings its way to Murdoch Towers.

I know Preston well, having lived there for two years in the 80's. If you'd taken her down The Black Horse and introduced her to Old Tom your interview would have taken an even more interesting turn!

9:44 PM  
Blogger Phill said...

There's one pub right next to the market - everytime I went in there I ended up having a political discussions with BNP sympathisers with facial twitches - I can't remember what the pub is called?

10:56 AM  

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