Review: James Mercer’s stage presence brings McDonald Theatre to life at The Shins’ concert
Thousands of University of Oregon students and employees dreaded attending classes Monday for the first day of fall term. But for the fortuitous group of ticket holders set to see Portland-based group The Shins, the first day of the 2017-18 school year came with a silver lining.
That evening, as the house lights fell and audience members turned their attention toward the stage, a high-pitched, bellowing scream came from behind the drawn curtain. “Ya’ll ready?” the voice proceeded to ask the nearly sold-out McDonald Theatre. The curtain pulled shortly after, revealing frontman James Mercer to be the source of the noise.
Instantly the crowd broke into cheers as the band kicked off the show with an energetic performance of “Caring is Creepy.” A psychedelic skull backdrop, floral props and a terrific strobe-filled light show enhanced the band’s powerful stage presence.
The indie rockers quickly followed with fan-favorite “Australia” and a new single “Name For You.” After cruising through three songs without stopping, Mercer welcomed the crowd to the show. “I feel good ‘cause I’m not far from home,” he added with a smile.
Two guitarists, a bassist, a pianist and a drummer joined Mercer on stage. Playing violins, synths and even a harmonica, The Shins’ members showcased an impressive grasp of multi-instrumentalism throughout the show.
While the band’s instrumentation impressed, it was Mercer’s emphatic performance style and diverse vocal timbre that ignited the energy within the concert hall. He pronounced each stanza of lyrics into the microphone with authority. Swaying and jerking along with the inflections in his voice, Mercer’s expressive body language illuminated the significance of his words.
A plethora of candid audience interactions and humor-filled conversations with bandmates met Mercer’s engaging musical performance. Notably, a moment of laughter resounded through the theater following a performance of the Baywatch theme song. “Did you know David Hasselhoff is actually from Eugene?” Mercer jokingly said. “He’s gonna be so excited when he finds out.”
The audience — filled with both old and young fans alike — continued to hoot and holler through every break between songs. If a brief moment of silence echoed from the stage, a celebrated cry of “I love you guys!” was a certainty.
The setlist consisted of a balanced mix of the band’s older hits, die-hard fan favorites and songs from its 2017 record, “Heartworms.”
One of the most memorable moments of the night came with the band’s performance of its most popular hit, “Simple Song.” With the crowd loudly belting the lyrics, Mercer flexed his arms as he sang: “I told you about all those fears / And away they did run / You sure must be strong when you feel like an ocean being warmed by the sun.” The performance closed their initial set.
After a short-lived exit, The Shins returned to stage for an encore. Before letting out another word, Mercer held his beer up to the mic and tapped its lid several times before cracking it open then taking a sip – signaling a cheers to the crowd.
For the finale, The Shins performed a rendition of “Sleeping Lessons” that featured a verse from Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” The band finished the show and took a well-deserved bow. “Thank you very much,” Mercer said before leaving the stage. “That was a blast.”
Caring is Creepy
Name for You
Kissing the Lipless
Mine’s Not a High Horse
Gone for Good
Painting a Hole
The Rifle’s Spiral
Baywatch theme song
Half a Million
Sleeping Lessons (with American Girl snippet by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
Follow Zach Price on Twitter: @zach_price24