The Shins – review

HMV Forum, London

In the five years since the Shins released their last album, Wincing the Night Away, Sub Pop's most successful group has seen out its contract and shed almost all its personnel.

Sole survivor, singer and guitarist James Mercer also owns the band's new label and, wearing rolled-up shirt sleeves and a determined expression at the centre of the stage, looks every inch the college rocker in control. But as the first jangly chord of Kissing the Lipless rings out, it's apparent that Mercer's long reach doesn't extend to the mixing desk, and the Shins' trademark clean, lustrous beauty is buried under bad sound.

The band's power, however, is undimmed. Mercer attacks each high note vengefully and plays his guitar hard, especially during the suckerpunch of So Says I. His new bandmates add layer upon layer to the dense melodies, happy to be there and keen to impress with the fourth album, Port of Morrow. Yukki Matthews plays strident bass – necessarily so against Joe Plummer's thundering rhythm section – and keyboardist Richard Swift adds swirls of atmospheric keyboards to The Rifle's Spiral and Caring Is Creeping, then percussion to the undulating psychedelia of spiky new song Marisa, as Mercer laments a "dishwater world they said was lemonade".

Matthews and Swift join guitarist Jessica Dobson on harmonies, but Dobson, dressed down like one of the boys in neat shirt and jumper, is gorgeously girlie as she coos through New Slang, caressing the mic while Mercer plays an acoustic guitar. He succumbs to audience demands for September, a slice of warm Americana whose intimacy stirs old memories. "I went to high school here in England," he says wistfully. "Good times." But most of Mercer's utterings barely make it past the front row. Instead, the Shins make a statement with an epic encore of Port of Morrow and Sleeping Lessons, blowing their pop to prog-like proportions, but always careful to round off the corners and make the loveliness linger.

Contributor

Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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