The last Shins show in Tucson was sweaty—sweaty—without air conditioning at the Rialto Theatre, and with sound that too often became muddy at the loud and low ends. It was a last hurrah, of sorts, that June night in 2004, before a six-month transformation turned the Rialto around in both sound and experience.
The Shins, too, have made plenty of changes. James Mercer—mercurial, perhaps, but an incredibly gifted songwriter—reloaded his ranks with new players (most notably keyboardist Richard Swift and lead-guitarist Jessica Dobson), bringing a six-piece powerhouse of a band back to Tucson.
If The Shins had burst on the scene with this 2012 incarnation, the band might have been described as the new American Radiohead, rather than the little indie band that could (change your life). The thing is, the songs from 2001's breakout Oh, Inverted World and this year's far-more-polished Port of Morrow aren't that different at the core.
Though Port of Morrow led the night in terms of song selection, the distribution among the four Shins albums was nearly even. The set popped open with "Kissing the Lipless," the calm-to-soaring hit from 2003's Chutes Too Narrow. Then came "Caring Is Creepy" from the band's debut, and "Simple Song," the lead single from Morrow. It was seamless.
Other highlights: "Phantom Limb" bringing the crowd up a notch with an arm-swaying sing-along; and Mercer strapping on his acoustic guitar for "New Slang," the star-maker, a fan favorite still, but one of many instead of the one.
The encore featured the dancey "No Way Down," but then the band let the wind out of the sails a bit, going from an old down-tempo B-side to a longish freak-out version of "One by One All Day." I wanted just one more pop gem—"Girl Inform Me," "Fighting in a Sack" or "Turn on Me" would've all served as fine closeout songs.
Earlier, Atlanta's Washed Out played a synth-heavy chillwave set that was meatier and funkier with a full live band than on record. And Albuquerque's Sad Baby Wolf, featuring two former Shins, delivered punchy rock 'n' roll with an edge of throwback 1980s Britpop.