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The Shins/The Brunettes
May 13, 2005 – Bank of America Arena – Seattle, WA
by Katie Sauro

Awash in a sea of North Face fleece jackets, Abercrombie polos, and smiling faces, I sat and waited for the show to begin.  It may have just been the whole Friday the 13th ambience, but it was incredibly strange to find myself surrounded by frat boys and sorority sisters in the University of Washington’s gym to watch one of Sub Pop’s best take the stage. 

While the venue was an odd choice and I felt somewhat out of place, the feeling of uncertainty came to a screeching halt once the lights went down and the openers took the stage.  The Brunettes, a kitschy six-piece from New Zealand, seemed to truly enjoy themselves on stage, talking with the audience between songs, holding an impromptu dance competition, and throwing candy out into the crowd.  They were cute and fun, taking a basic 60s folk sound, adding a horn section, keyboards, triangles, castanets, and a xylophone, and playing a set full of short snappy tunes that the audience happily danced along to.  With all the enthusiasm of a modern-day Partridge Family, complete with harmonizing vocals and handclaps, the Brunettes nearly stole the show.  This was definitely a tough act to follow.

That is, for any band other than the Shins.

James Mercer, Marty Crandall, Dave Hernandez, and Jesse Sandoval took the stage in all their indie-rock glory and played an awesome set that covered much of their two full-length albums, including tracks such as “New Slang,” “Girl Inform Me,” “The Celibate Life,” “Kissing the Lipless,” and the harmonica-flavored “Pink Bullets,” as well as a few new songs, and a Magnetic Fields cover.  My favorite song of the evening, however, was off an obscure 7” released in 2000, entitled “When I Goose-Step,” with Caribbean-style rhythms and Mercer’s vocals floating over the top. 

While Mercer, guitarist and lead vocalist, is the supposed “frontman” of the band, in actuality, the man who gets and gives the most attention on stage is Crandall.  He stands center stage, he talks with the crowd more than anyone I’ve ever seen, and he provides the most animated entertainment, with his unusual dance party of one, and his uncanny impression of David Lee Roth, circa early Van Halen.  And, for everyone who misses the good old days of the early 90s, Crandall even brought back “the wave.”

More impressive than the dead-on impersonation of the Jack Daniels-and-cocaine-induced slur of Roth and the other onstage theatrics, however, is the flawless music.  Fast and slow, electric and acoustic, the Shins provided a soundtrack of poppy, danceable tunes, as well as a few decelerated, slower-paced songs that still got the crowd swaying and singing along.  The setting was different than anything I’ve ever experienced Shins-wise, but the show was absolutely incredible, and it is clear why they have become indie-rock staples.  I am quite sure that every single one of the five thousand people in the crowd, even those preppy UW students who had never heard their music, walked out of there with a smile and a new appreciation for the perfection that is the Shins.