The Shins performed to a sold-out Hammersmith Apollo, celebrating the release of their fifth studio album Heartworms.
Formed in Albuquerque in 1996, The Shins have been a constant presence in the indie-rock scene over the years, albeit remaining slightly under the radar. Debut album Oh, Inverted World, released in 2001, brought the band prominence and single New Slang was the track which put The Shins firmly on the indie rock map. The release of second album Chutes Too Narrow in 2003 and single New Slang featuring on the soundtrack to film Garden State in 2004 heightened interest in the band. Third album Wincing The Night Away, released in 2007 and peaking at number 2 in the charts, represents the moment when The Shins achieved commercial success. After a hiatus and total line-up change with only frontman James Mercer remaining, Port of Morrow was released in 2012 and the single Simple Song cemented the bands return, placing within the top 10. Fifth album Heartworms was released last month and it’s a fresh, modern take on The Shins’ classic folk-dusted indie sound.
For a band with such a great wealth of music, choosing which tracks to play is no mean feat but their set list was most definitely on point. The audience was treated to a show which delved into the archives and dug out hidden gems from each and every album as well as the classic crowd-pleasers. Opening with grungy Kissing The Lipless from Chutes Too Narrow, followed by mellow So Now What from Heartworms provided a notable contrast showing how the band has evolved. The opening chords of Simple Song were met with rapturous cries from the vast audience, as were the other mega classics Australia and Phantom Limb, both from the band’s pivotal 2007 album Wincing The Night Away. The crowd really came together during Phantom Limb’s signature “Ohhh wayyy ohhh wayyy ohhhhh” harmonies, with the whole of the Apollo swaying along.
Mildenhall, a new track from Heartworms about Mercer’s time living in Suffolk as a young teen while his dad was stationed for the RAF, is an insight into how his musical talent began and hearing it live was a touching moment in the show. Whilst singing the lyrics “I started messing with my dad’s guitar, He taught me some chords just to start me of, Whittling away on all of those rainy days, And that’s how we get to where we are now” Mercer was clearly reflecting on the musical journey he’s had and demonstrated his joy at selling out such a huge venue. Speaking earlier in the show he said that this was the biggest venue the band had ever played in the UK and it was a sell out! Just looking around at the seats above us was quite breath-taking as they receded back higher and higher into the vaults.
The band departed the stage after Caring Is Creepy and teased the audience with a painfully long encore wait making us question if they’d even come back. But we knew they’d return as they couldn’t treat London to a show and not perform New Slang. And so it was that New Slang was their encore, the song which propelled James Mercer and The Shins into the commercial consciousness. We were then treated to Sleeping Lessons and a brilliant rendition of The Fear, the closing track on Heartworms, with spine-tingling violins which was a beautiful and serene way to close an amazing show.
I first heard The Shins more than a decade ago but this was the first time I’ve ever heard their songs live and in a way it wasn’t what I expected at all. Lead singer and guitarist James Mercer is the only remaining original member of the group and that does come across when you hear the older songs in a live setting. Obviously studio conditions can’t be replicated on stage and of course performing live allows a certain degree of artistic license as the tracks can be reworked for the live setting. But I felt that some of my fave tracks such as Australia failed to wow me like I expected they would and it seemed like the pace of many of the tracks had been sped up which really surprised me. But that’s only one small gripe as the show on the whole was brilliant and Mercer had the ability to immerse the vast audience in every song. The backdrop and stage setting deserves a mention too. A giant colour-changing glow in the dark rendition of the Heartworms album sleeve skull artwork overlooked proceedings and multiple oversized flowers decorated the stage, creating a darkly pretty stage set. The Shins are a band who have transcended the decades when it comes to their music and this is also the case with their fans as the audience was a total mix of old and young. Here’s to another decade…
Have a listen to the classic Australia and also new song Mildenhall below. Heartworms is out now.