With James Mercer at the helm, The Shins have begun their triumphant return, touring for the upcoming release of Heartworms, and already it feels like a premature victory lap. Making the first of three dates in Southern California at the Pomona Fox Theatre, Mercer and his ever rotating collective of collaborating musicians gave fans the show they’d been waiting over five years for. But in the midst of all the tugging of heartstrings and nostalgia-laden melancholy–and hope–that litters their infectious pop antics, it was easy to forget that this wasn’t the same band that first emerged almost two decades ago as Flake Music. In fact, with the recent re-release of that very first nubile attempt, the sublimely oscillating and discordant precursor to The Shins zany, rhythmic pop, When You Land Here It’s Time To Return, it seems even more pertinent to call to mine the changes in the band’s creative core.
With the permanent changes and goodbyes to the band’s longtime lineup back in 2009, Mercer effectively became the auteur of The Shins, transforming it into a rotating cast that would keep the concept of the band itself alive. There might’ve been fears that the changes made and the length of a hiatus might’ve led to something other than a familiar Shins album, and while the verdict on Heartworms is still out until its release, Mercer and company put to rest any tremors of worry with their explosive set. Dishing out the favorites with relish and gusto, Mercer was a burgeoning blaze of hot-bellied excitement, burning through roaring anthems like “Simple Song” and “Phantom Limb” in ecstasy with the crowd, who nearly brought down the building with their screams. Mercer treated fans with a large number of new songs as well, entreating them to give the new tunes a chance before each one–as if we needed any convincing. Their finale and encore was just as insane, splicing in the opening verse of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” into the middle of “Sleeping Lessons,” before anyone even knew what was happening Mercer was already howling along.
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