Five quick thoughts regarding The Shins' concert Tuesday at LC Pavilion:
(1) The Shins made a couple of the finest indie rock albums of the early 21st century, and a best-of collection would be hard to pry from my car CD player. (In fact, I might make one today.) But they are definitely not a band that demands to be seen live. There is a difference between a great songwriter and a great performer.
(2) Not that James Mercer hasn't surrounded himself with a quality band. This newfangled version of The Shins, in which Mercer is the only remaining component from the lineup that Sub Pop snapped up from New Mexico more than a decade ago, was plenty competent and even a little (gasp!) flashy at times. I certainly relished the note-perfect reenactment of the "New Slang" solo.
(3) That was the rare instance of being blown away by a ballad last night, though. Mercer's slow jams used to feel like intimate peeks into a gorgeously melancholy private life, but like his work with Broken Bells, the ballads on the new "Port of Morrow" just feel like a slog. Even "New Slang," perhaps the pinnacle of Mercer's songwriting, seemed to flicker in and out of transcendence like a sketchy cell phone signal. (The questionable background vocals didn't help either.
(4) That said, the upbeat numbers were a lot of fun. Opening with "Caring Is Creepy" and "Australia" was mighty dope, and "Simple Song" right after was proof that Mercer hasn't slipped in the slightest when it comes to writing spunky indie anthems.
(5) All those bouncy tracks were pleasant, but the best performance by far (and the only one that legitimately rocked me) was "Sleeping Lessons," which closed out the main set with a fierce energy that could almost qualify as punk. Second place goes to the jammy extended rendition of "One By One All Day" that wrapped up an otherwise sleepy encore. So while Mercer might not be a rock star in terms of stage presence, credit him for knowing how to make a big finish.