The Shins Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver BC, May 27

The Shins Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver BC, May 27
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
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A packed house was treated to indie rock veterans the Shins at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, experiencing a varied and charming set from James Mercer and co. The brevity of their set was surprising, yet the songs followed a well-crafted emotional arc.

Tennis, of Denver, were first to take the stage having last played the city as headliners just this March. They coupled shuffling beats with understated keys and bright guitars, delivering an enjoyable if slightly one-note performance.

Demented, human-sized flowers dotted the stage in reference to the Shins's artwork for Heartworms, their bright pink colour slowly losing intensity as the lights dimmed in preparation for the headliners. Their walk-on music was the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter, Mercer quipping that it was a toss up between that song and another from '70s television.

This was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the evening's nostalgia, as the band played invigorating renditions of 2001's "Caring Is Creepy" and la-la-la filled tracks, such as 2007's "Australia." They packed the front of the set with upbeat choices before dipping into country-influenced numbers and darker tracks. The energy was brought up once again, before a brief yet appreciated encore where the band's multi-instrumentalists added an orchestral element to the show.

Mercer's lyrics sometimes baffled, most often proved relatable, and had real charm on new songs, like "Mildenhall." Another look back at his past, he played simple acoustic guitar whilst retelling the story of his family's move to England during his teenage years. Its folky nature was highlighted by his bandmate's accompaniment on fiddle. The outro elicited cheers, as Mercer sang of his first experiments in songwriting. Meta, sure, but an endearing anecdote.

Of course, a number of audience members were there for well known songs from years past — "Phantom Limb," "New Slang," and celebrated closing track "Sleeping Lessons." Wincing the Night Away's indie pop still retains a clarity and relevance within it's anxious lyrics. The band weren't afraid to showcase more experimental, hyperactive songs from Heartworms though, as Mercer put down his guitar to deliver the attitude filled vocal of the psych-tinged "Painting a Hole."

Although a lengthier set would have been appreciated, James Mercer and his bandmates explored the shifting identity of the Shins with confidence and musical prowess last night.

They warmed fans up to material off of Heartworms, while paying homage to the past via their back catalogue and newer tracks referencing Mercer's formative years. This was captured perhaps most elegantly during "The Fear," a ten-year old track from Heartworms that kicked off the encore. Three band members took to their violins, crafting beautiful harmonies as Mercer earnestly addressed the crowd. Creating a through line between the old and new just might be what the Shins do best.