REVIEW: The Shins at Summerfest

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The setting was almost too perfect to close out Summerfest 50. A calm, warm night was far from the torrential downpour that plagued the first night of the festival, and inside the BMO Harris Pavilion, a full crowd anticipated The Shins to finish out their festival docket. The lights slowly faded down, a clip of the “Laverne & Shirley” theme song played, and James Mercer led his band onstage. In a flurry, we were into “Caring Is Creepy”, the first track of not only their setlist, but their 2001 debut, “Oh, Inverted World”. If you were a fan of all of The Shins’ work, this was your night to see it live.

It felt as though the band knew that most of their work didn’t lend kindly to a Sunday night, 9:45 time slot. There was very little time between songs, and early set numbers included a sped up version of “Australia”, “Name For You”, and “Mine’s Not A High Horse”, which might not have lent themselves well to the acoustics of the BMO Harris Pavilion, but did get the crowd up and into the set. After a couple of songs, the black curtain behind the band dropped, revealing a floor-to-ceiling, glowing blacklight skull, similar to the “Heartworms” artwork, which yielded a collective “woah” from the audience. Those early tracks were followed by “Girl Inform Me”, which was unfortunately marred by feedback issues. A small blemish in the course of the night, but “Chutes Too Narrow” cut “Gone For Good” got everything back up to speed.

Mercer was the most energetic of the night, and owned the spotlight that was mostly on him throughout the show. In fact, his energy mostly outmatched the audience, with the exception of singalongs like “Kissing The Lipless” and “Phantom Limb”, which seemed straightforward until it became a mashup with a verse of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. If we renamed Summerfest 50 as “Pettyfest”, you almost wouldn’t be too far off in that description. The whole night went with very little breaks in the action, as each song would end, the lights would go black, and then we would come up again on another indie rock jam. When he did address the crowd, Mercer was kind and funny. One address described an incounter where he ultimately believed that the audience is what makes a concert great, and another was to playfully inform the crowd that the band was here to represent Columbia Records before playing a track from “Heartworms”. The night was mostly jam-packed with music, though, which really was the best way to see Summerfest out for 2017.

The longest break of the night came after the band’s normal set, which ended with radio-friendly single “Simple Song”. A glowing kickdrum was the only thing lit for maybe all of about three or four minutes, before they returned to the stage with the low-brooding song, “The Fear”. An interesting choice to start an encore, but it did show off the band’s touring string section, which accented the band throughout the night. The energy picked right back up though, with “New Slang”, and the night closed on the building energy of “Sleeping Lessons”, culminating in a crescendo of singing, house lights on the crowd, and actual movement from the otherwise too-cool-to-dance BMO Harris Pavilion crowd. It felt as though the build-up throughout the night was for that moment, and all of the energy in the stands released in that instance.

For a band that mostly makes very chill indie rock, The Shins knew how to get their crowd going on a Sunday night, end-of-festival time slot. To make things even better, the show ended on a great moment, in a 11-day span that was already filled with very cool moments to begin with. Between the atmosphere, the band, and the show itself, The Shins proved to be a great way to close out a Sunday night, and an even better way to close out Summerfest.


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