Indie Rock Meets the Shoreline Amphitheater: Kimbra, Tegan & Sara and the Shins
Harmony By the Bay, presented by KFOG at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View (Sat/Sept. 29th) offered a showcase of some of the best alternative rock musicians of the last decade, from currently rising stars such as Kimbra(known for her duo with Goyté in his hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know”, and whose solo album Vows is a force to be reckoned with), to indie-favorites the Shins (promoting their new album Port of Morrow) and twin powerhouse duo Tegan & Sara.
Kimbra is only twenty-two years old, and she is certainly an artist to watch. Hailing from New Zealand, her performance art is so passionate you cannot help but dance along or break into a huge smile. She strutted across the Shoreline Stage with total power, wearing boots and one of her characteristic brightly colored and fluffy dresses.
Despite the huge size of the Amphitheater, she connected amazingly well with the audience– her band’s sound echoed well out into the grass and got the crowd moving on the sunny afternoon Mountain View offered us. Audience members in the seated section were treated to her involved hand gestures and belting from the edge of the stage.
Her album ranges from slow, introspective, and jazzy numbers such as “Plain Gold Ring” to her dance and amphitheater-ready hits “Two Way Street”and “Settle Down”. The magic she creates with her attention to every aspect of her performance–her fantastic voice, band, overall theatrical manner of dressing and dancing with all of her feeling–has drawn many comparisons to artists such as Björk.
She has a voice like Nina Simone and the dramatic persona of legends like Prince. Her album achieved Platinum status within three weeks of release, and she now has an international deal with Warner Music. She was quite earnest between songs, and as a foreign artist, I predict she will not only maintain her individuality even while signing a record deal with a big U.S. label, but she will flourish. Her spirit is an inspiration.
While many audience members enjoyed the smaller stage for bands such as Beats Antique, others waited in rapt anticipation of Tegan & Sara. The line-up was fairly well balanced for families in the audience–while many fans of Tegan & Sara and the Shins are older, their lyrics connect perfectly with the teens and early twenties angst of failed relationships, heartbreak and loneliness.
But the older generation in the audience was head over heels for Allison Krauss & Union Station. A highlight of their performance was a guest appearance by Dan Tyminski, for his song from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack “Man of Constant Sorrow”. A short walk over to the smaller stage revealed quite a different crowd than the audience attracted to the bands on the main stage. There was a definite “Burning Man” vibe, with the tents and vendors lined up around the stage which featured Jimmy Cliff, Matisyahu, the Dirty Heads, The Givers and more. Delicious food vendors are also always something that make the trek out to the Shoreline worthwhile. I’m constantly impressed by the Bay Area’s attention to vegan and vegetarian food options as it has improved over the last decade at festivals, as well as offering compostable utensils.
Tegan & Sara debuted their new single “Closer” from their upcoming album Hearthrob (January 2013). The two Canadian musicians have released six amazing studio albums since 1999’s Under Feet Like Ours. In interviews they have recently been discussing the happy, more settled feeling they both have in their lives (they are now thirty years old) and how the stable relationships they both find themselves in has affected their songwriting. This could be heard in the dance power ballad “Closer”, which went over fantastically with the audience filled with hardcore fans.
“I’m the type that won’t get oh so critical/ So let’s make things physical/ I won’t treat like you’re oh so typical”, they belt. Tegan & Sara are master songwriters, with lyrics that teen fans can relate to, but that are still relevant as you grow up. The lyrics ring clearly over their rock progressions, and although many choruses are simple, that is exactly why they ring so true.
Their hits such as “Where Does the Good Go?” and “Call It Off” are applauded by countless fans for aiding rough break-ups, and as their career has progressed their songs now narrate moments of self-discovery, confidence in relationships and affirmation.
It was amazing to hear the two women look back on their career when Neil Young’s manager first signed them to his record label (Vapor Records) and they went straight from graduating high school to touring the world–bringing them to his concerts at the Shoreline such as his annual Bridge School Benefit. The two reflected with gratitude and amazement that they made it through the challenges of jumping into the business at nineteen years old and now finding themselves a headlining act at the Amphitheater.
Tegan & Sara have never run into the Shins in all their touring, and told the excited crowd how happy they were to share the stage with such a great band. The line up made perfect sense– The Shins are the male counterpart to the indie soundtrack of the 2000‘s. If you weren’t holed up in your room with Tegan & Sara’s album So Jealous (2004) in your teen years, or belting their hit “Ninteen” out an open car window (The Con, 2007), it’s likely that you were humming the more offbeat “Caring is Creepy” or “New Slang” (from 2001’s Oh Inverted World) while taking a brisk and moody walk. Although these two bands have very different lyrical style, they are both self-aware in their pop sensibilities and their romantic or often termed “emo” lyrical focuses. They have fun with wearing their heart on their sleeves, especially now that both have reached incredible success in the last decade, and both bands can now enjoy themselves and assumably feel less pressure on what type of sound they are “expected” to produce with each new record.
Additionally, lead singer and songwriter of the Shins, James Mercer, has released one side project between the last Shins album and Port of Morrow, called Broken Bells. This collaboration with Danger Mouse enjoyed success and Mercer’s experimentation with more electronic sounds and attention to the layered sounds in that project can be heard in the new Shins songs, which actually filled up the Amphitheater more than I anticipated. Their sound was not too small for the Shoreline, and the band seemed euphoric to be playing to such a large crowd.
The angst and empowerment felt in the audience while rocking out to Tegan & Sara was a perfect build-up to the quirky and atmospheric ballads of the Shins, as the moon shined beautifully over the tent of the Amphitheater, complete with hippy peace and love signs projected with rainbow lights under the tent’s ceiling.