There was something magical about the Sunday night Sasquatch Music Fest performance by The Shins. Or maybe it just felt "magical." The stage was covered in giant paper flowers, with stems taller than the musicians and blooms bigger than their heads. (Ego jokes aside; everyone seems to have perfectly healthy self-esteems.) The backdrop was a brightly-colored psychedelic take on the album artwork for Heartworms, the band's most recent release that came out in March. The stage was framed by banners featuring the design commissioned for this year's festival (see here), but the rainbows matched perfectly with The Shins aesthetic. And at the center of it all was frontman/founder James Mercer, looking positively elfin in his striped t-shirt and weird knitted cap. I felt transported to Living Island, the wondrous world in '70s children show H.R. Pufnstuf.
And kicking off the set was the transportive, trippy organs of "Caring is Creepy," the first track from their debut album Oh, Inverted World, filling in for that flashback noise you hear on tv sitcoms when characters reminisce. Fan favorites followed, like "Australia," the Heartworms single "Name For You," and jumping back to that first LP, "Girl Inform Me." For the live version of "Gone for Good," the band dramatically differed the pace from the recorded version on 2003's Chutes Too Narrow, Mercer abandoning his guitar to stand at the mic, bop along, and play harmonica.
Helping Mercer out was a crew of five other musicians. The Shins are becoming The New Pornographers. The band's line-up has always been fluid, with a long list of former musicians (including beloved local lady Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver). The only familiar face was that of bassist Yuuki Matthews, and seeing him made me wanna dig out the album Romance by his old band Seldom, distributed by Barsuk in 2002. On keyboards was an unfamiliar cutie-pie with unkempt hair, freckles, and denim shortalls. She looked like she'd be the spunky, tomboy H.R. Pufnstuf protagonist, the human accidentally transported to this magical land and handed a tambourine. Just go with it, kid.
Before launching into the autobiographical song "Mildenhall," Mercer reminded us all of the reason for the season. "When I was a teen in the '80s, we had to move to the UK because my dad was in the Air Force and was stationed there. And that's what this song is about. And that's why I appreciate Memorial Day!" The audience cheered in support.
During "Saint Simon," the crowd also piped in on all the "la la la la"s. "I heard you singing. Thank you for that," Mercer nodded. "You work for free, however." He took another opportunity to use the audience as unpaid labor on the track "Phantom Limb." At the part of the song with all the "whoaaa whoa-ohh"s, he asked the audience to sing along and wave their hands. "People on the hill, we see you!" some band member shouted.
They worked in a few more brand-new tracks like "So Now What" and "Painting a Hole," which strangely, sounded like a song by The Monkees, but maybe the '60s vibe of the stage was just throwing me off. And then they took it back to where it all began. The screen went black, the lights went down, and the soft familiar percussion of "New Slang" began, like a whisper. At the very first beat, fans just knew and began to cheer.
The final track of the night was 2007's "Sleeping Lessons" which segued into a cover of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' 1976 hit "American Girl," an appropriate closer on Memorial Day weekend. As they ended their set, the band members came center stage and took a group bow. Young keyboard lady, you may never escape the psychedelic world of Living Island, but you've found yourself the nicest friends.
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