Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé concert review
coverpic flag US - New Mexico - Full Moon 89 - 01/07/04

The Shins + Iron
& Wine + The Smallgoods

Corner Hotel, Richmond,
Melbourne, AUS 10.12.03

James Mercer
The Shins
c/o SubPop Records

Dear James,
I saw your band The Shins play the other night and I thought I'd write and let you know how much I enjoyed it. You guys rule.

In fact, the whole evening was pretty triumphant. I'd never heard Iron & Wine before, but Sam Beam and his friend Patrick convinced me that The Creek Drank The Cradle is an essential buy, so we picked up a copy at the merchandising stall. The subdued blend of two acoustic guitars, the occasional banjo, and Beam's husky voice really got the crowd swooning with pleasure. Real open-fire music, the atmosphere crackling and the cool breeze stirring the emotions. From the first time I heard "Upward Over The Mountain" it won my heart, and I've been strumming it ever since, despite its similarity to overplayed Pumpkins oldie "Disarm". And the stark cover of The Flaming Lips' "Waitin' For Superman" was a masterstroke.

Your other support, Melbourne band The Smallgoods sat awkwardly next to Iron & Wine, their sunny harmonized pop sounding too smooth and trite against Beam's rustic tapestry. However, credit to the local band for playing two sets, one before Iron & Wine's set and another after. The former was best I think, with some gorgeous pedal steel setting off the woozy strumming nicely. But the set after Iron & Wine just sounded crude and brash. I can see why they were chosen in an attempt to compliment The Shins' bright pop sound, but at least you guys can write songs.

And what songs. Pretty much every one was a winner, and you must have played about 35 of the suckers. Almost all of wonderful new album Chutes Too Narrow, and a good proportion of Oh, Inverted World too. But before I tell you which bits of the set really got my soul singing, I have a confession to make.

You look like a physics teacher James. Sorry, but you do. I forgave the fact that you stood to the side of the stage, as your keyboardist Marty Crandall is a fantastic showman, and really kept the pace of the set rapid with his quick wit. You're an intense man aren't you James - a real thinker. I'd just never appreciated it until I saw you perform the songs in person.

The records demonstrate an absolutely genius way with a guitar tune, but the passion you pour into those words and melodies is truly something to behold. And what a voice! Expressive without being overwrought; sensitively delivered without being syrupy. The range of your craft is astounding, and despite your lack of confidence on stage, you knocked the crowd sideways.

OK - onto my highlights. Although some of my favourite songs on the albums are the quieter numbers with clear, lilting melodies - like "Pink Bullets", "New Slang" and "Young Pilgrims" - it was the rockier tracks that really won me over live. The riff from "Turn A Square" had me grinning like a twat, and that's a great thing. Groovy as fuck. And "Pressed In A Book" never really impressed me on your debut, but live it was injected with a compelling urgency that I found truly moving.

Songs, songs, songs - so many good songs. Keep writing 'em James and I'll keep listening. And I've been lucky to catch you in Australia, so I hope I can see you tour the next album when I return to England.

Yours in admiration, and sustained excitement about the power of the pop song,
Tim Clarke

Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke e-mail address

Photo Copyright © 2004 Debra Zeller

© 2011 Luna Kafé