Friday, 9 November 2007

The Shins / Vampire Weekend - Manchester Academy 1 - 8/11/07

It's absolutely freezing. I've just got off the train from Leeds and I'm wondering why I bothered, Manchester is too cold! It's at this moment that I realise why I'm suffering in my hoodie and braving train travel, I'm here to see The Shins. I don't usually travel much for gigs as Leeds seems to have a constant supply of great bands coming here to play, the only thing we lack is a venue big enough for those slightly bigger bands. The Shins are one of these bands, stuck somewhere between Arenas and Universities. Anyway I waffle, let's get to the gig...

When Vampire Weekend take to the stage I have to say I'm very excited, one listen to their beautifully simple first album and I'm smitten. Live, however, I'm left a little cold. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until coming back home on the train, when I realised why I couldn't warm to them; they just didn't NEED it enough. They seemed like posh boys having a go at being in a band, it seemed a bit easy. Having said that the songs are great, (if not a little static and jarring live) a mix of Paul Simon's Graceland with the college pop sensiblities of the band they share the bill with. The crowd seem a little non-plus but by the time they wheel out 'One', the catchy refrain 'Blake's got a new face!' is being coaxed out of them, and people look like they're actually having fun. But we all know what they really want.

Stand out tracks; 'Mansard Roof', 'One', 'A-Punk'

As soon as the lights go down and the tape loop of 'Sleeping Lessons' begins, there is a massive communal spine tingle, excited yelps popping up around the room. As soon as James Mercer croons the opening line I'm sold, a big voice but somehow still naive. As the song reaches its euphoric climax the back curtain is dropped to reveal their beautiful backdrop, a giant version of their Wincing The Night Away artwork. This opening song lets the crowd know exactly what they're in for, a mix of the quiet and loud, massive crashing highs and beautifully intricate lows. 'Turn On Me' is a basic run through but the next song 'Girl Inform Me' is where tonight gets interesting, we are witnessing the reinvention of their first album. 'Girl Inform Me' really benefits from The Shins' development as a band over the last few years, it is brighter, tighter and infinately bigger than the version commited to record in 2001. This trend continues with the other first album tracks, there's a new rather more concise retelling of 'Caring Is Creepy', a slower, slide guitar heavy 'New Slang', and a delicate and basic 'Past And Pending'.

Of the new songs 'Sea Legs' surprises me most as it takes on a rather more aggressive side and really fills the room with trashy guitars and crunchy beats, all underpinned by that ever present slide guitar, to form a quintessentially Shins sound, but with an edge not apparent on the album version. 'Girl Sailor' feels a little wet and underdone, and serves as a little breather on this relentless barage of great songs, bringing everyone down a little bit from the cloud we've been perched on. 'Phantom Limb' is gorgeous, a heady mix of sing-a-long moments alongside inverted emotion expressed through opaque lyrics, serving as a wonderful abridged summary of The Shins' sound. A truly beautiful moment amongst the new songs is 'A Comet Appears', a bare, thoughtful lament on loneliness and faith. Simple finger picked guitar and James' powerful, emotive voice weave between each other to create a truly touching moment

'We can blow on our thumbs and posture, but the lonely are such delicate things. The wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea, with stones on their feet, lost to the light and loving we need' The Shins - 'A Comet Appears'

Other highlights of the set were a stark yet bouncy interpretation of 'When I Goosestep', a wonderfully uplifting 'Mine's Not A High Horse' and the Bloc Party meets Bluegrass guitars on 'Turn A Square'. 'Kissing The Lipless' slips into the set un-announced without the customery 'clap off' that usually signalls it's arrival, and this only serves to make it even more wonderful as you settle into it, you jump rather than been pushed. It has really developed into an amazing song since it opened 2003's Chutes Too Narrow, taking on a new forthright sound. Set closer 'Australia' is one big sing-a-long and retains its title as 'the smash hit that never was', it's pop music in its purest form and a great way to end. But there was more, as the band skipped out for a short encore encompassing a simple acoustic run through of 'The Past And Pending'and a fantastic enahanced version of 'So Says I', complete with a massive synthy build up! Full of crashing cymbals and twirling guitar lines, its an ideal end to a spectacular night.

Stand out tracks;

'A Comet Appears', 'Turn A Square'(wins for best lyric 'Just a glimpse of an ankle and I, react like it's 1805'!), 'Australia', 'Sea Legs' and 'Kissing The Lipless'

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