“This is my daughter!” shouted a hip-looking guy to a group of equally hip-looking parents, introducing his pre-teenager, as concertgoers rapidly filled the space around him.
A crowd of fans young and old descended on the National Wednesday night for The Shins’ sold out show, fresh from the previous night’s show at Norfolk venue the NorVa and last week’s Atlanta music festival Shaky Knees.
More than a few dads and kids, couples, avid concertgoers and those relatively green packed out the National’s floor before the opening band took the elaborately decorated stage.
Giant pink paper-mâché flowers popped up behind the drum set and at the tip of the stage, while a giant, wavily drawn skull loomed on the banner behind the stage, riffing on the melted flowers-and-skull motif of HEARTWORMS, the Shins’ latest album.
This particular hip dad’s daughter, predictably, blushed, her arms crossed. Even being intoTthe Shins doesn’t necessarily get you cool points, apparently, Dad.
Opening for The Shins that night was Tennis, a ‘70s throwback right down to the their sequined shirts and stripey bell bottoms.
They’re an appropriate opener for a summer tour–the band began with songs the husband and wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley penned after an extended boat trip down the Eastern Seaboard in 2010.
As much as their sound pulls from the warm tones and girl-group harmonies of the early ‘70s, they’re just as much influenced, it seems, by dance and dream-pop of the early 2010s, such as Toro y Moi and Best Coast.
Their carefree but carefully crafted sound still holds surprises that their newest album, Yours Conditionally, and their live performance showcase. Rather than simply a slowdown pastiche of ‘70s pop, songs like “Modern Woman” reveal far more contemporary anxieties–then, of course, pair those anxieties with satisfying hooks.
As Tennis said their final goodbyes, the room was packed full. Anticipation built until, finally, the stage darkened, and The Shins frontman James Mercer and his band stepped out on the stage to enthusiastic applause.
The band played a set heavy on the hits, beginning with a rare performance of fan-favorite “Caring is Creepy,” and ending with the more recent “Simple Song.”
While songs from their first album Oh, Inverted World and second album Chutes Too Narrow took up a large chunk of the band’s set, 2017’s Heartworms wove in well with acclaimed favorites.
And perhaps that’s to be expected–Heartworms fits more readily with Mercer’s first two albums, both in style and production, being the first album since Oh, Inverted World that Mercer solely shouldered the task of producing and recording.
But if he was breaking a sweat during production, neither the songs nor his live performance show the strings, providing the same orchestrated-yet-effortless sound that initially gave the Shins fame.
For their four song encore, Mercer welcomed out Richmond’s own No BS! Brass Band members John Hulley, Reggie Pace and Sam Koff (top image) to cheers and applause.
The first chords of “New Slang” were met with raucous screams and an audience who sang nearly every word.
But the crowd seemed all the more enthusiastic to welcome Pace, Koff and Hulley back to the stage for Wincing the Night Away’s “Sleeping Lessons,” which included an unexpected snippet of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
The crowd, satisfied, filed out. Hopefully, for that dad and daughter, cool-dad status was achieved.
Photos by Dennis Willard