September 30th, 2017 | Live reviews

TheShins-3 Photos by Stephanie Port Words by Madison Desler

Halfway through The Shins’ set at the Greek Theatre last night, James Mercer sang “Mildenhall”—a song off of this years’ Heartworms, and a kind of origin story for one of indie rock’s unlikeliest superheroes. The lyrics outline Mercer’s army brat adolescence and his introduction to playing music through messing around on his dad’s guitar. “And that’s how we get to where we are now,” he sings—a pretty great line to be singing out over a packed crowd at one of LA’s greatest venues—but one that breezes over the twenty years that Mercer has been the heart and soul of arguably the genre’s most dependable band.

With five universally beloved albums, one iconic movie scene (the use of “New Slang” in 2004’s Garden State put the band on the map and cemented their indie-cool status), and one complete lineup overhaul after 2007’s Wincing the Night Away in the band’s wake, Mercer finds himself the last Shin standing—a role he took on with reserved gusto throughout a career-spanning setlist.

Playing everything from early favorite “Caring Is Creepy” to the latest single “Name For You,” it became very clear that Mercer’s hallmark is consistency, regularly churning out hummable, groovable gems of melodic, pop-rock—a style that came to define the indie sound of the aughts. The band hit touchstones like “Australia”—Mercer’s voice still able to soar through his upper register—and “Kissing the Lipless”—where he proved he could still angst-yell with the best of ‘em.


A pleasant surprise was the muscley rendition of “Mine’s Not A High Horse,” a deeper cut from Chutes Too Narrow that was given a new lease on life thanks to the band’s energy. It was a nice peak before the gentle, Cosmic American Music-comedown of “Gone For Good,” the melty slide guitar floating out beautifully into the late-September air.

The crowd was on their feet for most of the show—a real accomplishment when the median age leans toward 40—but the biggest reaction probably came from a medley that Mercer called “The Rock Block” featuring an irony-filled rendition of “Your Love” by The Outfield, mashed up with his own “Girl On The Wing” and “Turn A Square.” “We’re gonna do a party jam right now,” he teased beforehand, “a sick-ass party jam.”

Mercer’s not cool. He never has been—choosing to cover up his balding head with various dad-hats and cracking jokes at his own expense when his E-string went way out of tune. And yet, he’s become a Gen X patron saint, most likely because he’s a reflection of the majority of his aging fanbase—several of whom sat with their toddlers in their laps as they bobbed along to “Half A Million.”

By the time Mercer got to “Simple Song”—and half those toddlers passed out—his voice was starting to give. Nothing terribly detrimental, just a struggle for those top notes. “I know that things can really get rough/when you go it alone,” he fought to sing, but the way his adopted band rallied behind him—and the fervor that the crowd called him back to the stage for an encore with—proved that maybe, for Mercer, that’s just not the case.

The show was opened by Foxygen and Day Wave.