Twenty-five minutes later, the Shins greeted the throng quietly, via the burbling intro of "Sleeping Lessons," the lead track on the combo's new CD, Wincing the Night Away. But when lead singer James Mercer (whose rumpled dress shirt and tie caused him to resemble an accountant cutting loose after a long week) limbered up his pipes and unleashed his trademark warble, the effect was wonderfully invigorating. In contrast to Viva Voce, Mercer and company were blessed with a tremendous mix -- perhaps the best I've ever heard at the Fillmore -- that showcased the combo as a whole. Guitarist Dave Hernandez, bassist Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval always deferred to Mercer, who writes and sings all the tunes, but they did it so cheerfully that there was never a sense that they felt creatively squelched. Far from it: There was more joyful hopping on view than on breeding day at the bunny farm.
The song list ranged across the outfit's three Sub Pop long players: "Know Your Onion!" and (of course) "New Slang," from 2001's Oh, Inverted World; "Kissing the Lipless" and "Gone For Good" from 2003's Chutes Too Narrow; and a blissful "Phantom Limb" (the lead single from Wincing) featuring Anita offering the same sort of background vocals she does on the disc. Along the way, Mercer prompted fan participation in a charming way, by asking ticket-holders to "la-la the shit" out of "Saint Simon," and repeatedly expressed delight that the Fillmore was sold out. Given the Shins' rising-star status, anything less would have been unlikely. But Mercer vividly described a previous date at the Fillmore when the room was bisected by a giant curtain to make the modest turnout seem less embarrassing. And before encoring with a surprisingly credible rendition of the Modern Lovers' pre-punk chestnut "Someone I Care About," he and his fellows waved around dorky trophies given them by Fillmore staffers to commemorate their achievement, acting as delighted as champion Little Leaguers who'd started the season at the bottom of the heap.
How polite of them. -- Michael Roberts