SAN FRANCISCO— It’s not scary to care about some watermarks of the early 2000s indie scene. Swapping lo-fi for some-fi, moving away from unreleased evocations toward a well-maintained mood, crafting songs for movie soundtracks that flatten human beings into airy archetypes, coming of age after the world has gone to hell in a hand basket… the shins gave birth to his first album, Oh, inverted world, in 2001. Now, 21 years later, this album can finally vote for itself and its sound as still relevant and true after all this time. So the band embarked on a “coming of age” tour to revisit it in its entirety and come out with a purse of hits and quirks, like they did on Tuesday night at Warfield.
Although the lineup of the Shins has changed over the years, indie rock frontman and chief James Mercer has remained. Mercer originally planned the tour for 2021…but a different kind of terror has taken hold of the world, and you know how it goes. The band made their intentions known even with the accompanying music, featuring Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” on stage, the kind that “will haunt you.” The single “New Slang” was featured on the soundtrack of the 2004 film “garden conditionfull of wistful narcissism and maniacal pixie dream girls that proliferated throughout the period. Against the scrim that was essentially the album cover, the Shins played a very faithful rendition of this inverted, front-to-back world.
It wasn’t revealing, and it wasn’t entirely superficial, but something surprises you after a year or more without live music. The immediacy of a rock spectacle coupled with the time warp of a 20+ year old album can make your head spin with memories. A respectful cover of the album, from “Caring is Creepy” to “New Slang” (with backing vocals from the opening band joseph) and up to “The Past Is Pending” was nice, pretty, and a little bloodless. But it was still evocative, cinematic if not anachronistic – a film you might be happy to rewatch if only to live happily in the past for one night.
And the songs were played quite perfectly by the band. I happened to attend a few of the Shins’ sets in May at the Just Like Heaven festival in Los Angeles; the Warfield’s more intimate setting is better suited to the quiet introspection of Oh, inverted world.
After skimming through the album, they seemed to break away happily and skim through later hits like “Turn a Square” while fitting in a random cover of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline.” They ended with the plaintive leg of “Kissing the Lipless,” letting the guitars go from full tilt to a silence, a whisper, a salute to the past… still waiting.
The opening group, josephis normally a threesome but announced itself as “a short sister” on Tuesday due to an untimely appendicitis attack.
A guitar, a wandering bass drum and two emotionally charged voices were enough to satisfy. Imagine if Adele moved to Brooklyn, joined the co-op, and got into indie folk rock. Maybe she starts listening to early Chicks records, begs Jenny Lewis to put more emotion and anger in her sound, and says she’s not ready to be nice, and you’re getting close. .
What they lacked in extra bodies on stage they made up for in emotional expansion. Singing sad and desolate songs that sound almost honky-tonk, they have big points to defend on the politics of love.
Follow photographer Chloe Catajan on Instagram.com/riannachloe.