Monday, April 16, 2012 | 6 p.m.
More arts and entertainment
- Check out Robin Leach's VegasDeLuxe.com for more celebrity and A&E coverage.
Neither rain nor unseasonably cool temperatures were enough to rattle fans of the Shins on Friday night. Those who braved the elements during the first stop on the indie rock band’s U.S. tour were rewarded with a stately, professional 85-minute performance of the band’s biggest hits and songs from their most recent album, “Port of Morrow.”
It was 50 degrees when the band stepped onstage at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool shortly after 10 p.m., and the cranky weather seemed to have an effect on the crowd, some of whom remained huddled under the pool’s overhang even after the light drizzle that preceded the band’s performance had ceased.
Frontman James Mercer, a dead ringer for a younger Kevin Spacey, led a four-piece lineup -- guitarist Jessica Dobson, bassist Yuuki Matthews, keyboardist Richard Swift and drummer Joe Plummer -- through the one-two punch of “Kissing the Lipless” and “Mine’s Not a High Horse” to open their 18-song set.
Much has been made of Mercer’s decision to shuffle the band’s lineup in recent years, to the point where the Shins have become more of a solo venture with backing musicians than the sum of equal parts. It didn’t seem to matter much to fans on this night, many of whom were content enough with the band’s first Las Vegas performance since 2007.
Mercer is from that “let the music do the talking” school of live performance favored by so many indie rockers, so anyone looking for insight into the band’s occasionally oblique lyrics would be left scratching their heads. After “Simple Song,” one of six performed tracks from “Port of Morrow,” he quipped, “Thanks for braving the weather. This is Reykjavik, right?” But that would be the extent of Mercer’s levity.
Of the new material, “Simple Song” fared the best, although “Bait and Switch,” which followed, ran a close second. (Regrettably, one of the album’s best tracks, “40 Mark Strasse,” went unplayed.) “Phantom Limb,” from 2007’s “Wincing the Night Away,” ushered in the night’s only sing-along, but you had to wonder at the disproportionate amount of gusto Mercer put into the line, “This town seems hardly worth the time,” when he sang it a second time.
For many in the audience, not hearing “New Slang” would have been akin to a Christmas without presents, but Mercer obliged, performing an extremely low-key version of their name-making hit, his voice barely hovering over the band’s gentle backing.
“We’ve got a cover song that we haven’t played in a while. We’ve rehearsed it once, and we’re going to play it now,” Mercer announced before a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” to begin their three-song encore. When last the Shins played Vegas -- dressed as androids on a pre-Halloween night at the Vegoose music festival -- “Breathe” was greeted with cheers of recognition and appreciation. Here, it was merely part of the scenery, a prelude to “One by One All Day” and “Port of Morrow,” which closed the show.
From there, it was on to bigger and better for the Shins. A performance at Coachella in Indio, Calif., awaited Saturday.
Friday night’s setlist: “Kissing the Lipless,” “Mine’s Not a High Horse,” “Simple Song,” “Bait and Switch,” “Australia,” “No Way Down,” “Pam Berry/Phantom Limb,” “The Rifle’s Spiral,” “Saint Simon,” “Sphagnum Esplanade,” “So Says I,” “It’s Only Life,” “Caring Is Creepy,” “New Slang” and “Sleeping Lessons.” Encore: “Breathe” (Pink Floyd cover),” “One by One All Day” and “Port of Morrow.”
Jack Houston is editor of Las Vegas Magazine, a weekly published by Greenspun Media Group, which also owns the Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Weekly and Vegas DeLuxe. Houston’s birthday is Saturday.