Shins / Brunettes – Webster Hall (New York City, NY)
Not even the torrential downpours that had been pummeling New York City throughout the day could dampen the spirits of the hundreds of Shins fans who braved the elements to catch their heroes at Webster Hall in Greenwich Village. No sir. These fans were pumped. And so was the band.
In fact, as soon as the indie-pop foursome hit the stage and songwriter-vocalist James Mercer launched into the familiar opening chords of “Know Your Onion” on his red, road-worn Les Paul, the Shins completely had the audience in the palms of their hands.
What became readily apparent throughout the band’s nearly two-hour performance was their musical versatility and professionalism, the result of a steady lineup as well as incessant touring over the past eight years. Keyboardist Marty Crandall displayed some mighty fine echo-drenched, spaghetti-western surf guitar tones on the folk-rockish “Mine’s Not A High Horse”. Bassist Dave Hernandez exhibited a knack for shifting musical gears; besides helping to propel the thunderous rhythm section (along with rock-steady drummer Jesse Sandoval), he’s also a phenomenal lead guitar player, as evidenced by his Pete Townshend-like power chording on “Kissing The Lipless” and some pedal steel-like licks on the country-flavored “Gone For Good”, courtesy of his Guild SG.
The two songs that struck the deepest nerve with the crowd were the catchy, melodically flawless Moby Grape-meets-the-Kinks “Saint Simon” and the haunting, acoustic-flavored “New Slang”, which was featured in the film Garden State. In terms of depth and range, Mercer is an exceptionally talented vocalist, which doesn’t always come across on the band’s records. In concert, however, his unique, emotionally charged styling was downright awesome.
The Brunettes, a quirky garage-pop band from New Zealand, turned in a strong performance to open the show. The seven-piece band, anchored by Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield, clearly won the audience over with an eclectic, exuberant melding of hooks, harmony and humor — not to mention their mastery of a plethora of musical instruments including marimba, glockenspiel, banjo, cello, trumpet, and alto and tenor saxophones.