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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeTouring in support of their third album Wincing the Night Away, the Shins returned to Milwaukee with a host of new songs to play and a much bigger crowd than in 2004 to hear their moody rock and pop. With the group's first two albums progressing toward a seemingly definitive yet mysterious sound, the new material still seeks out those mysterious directions but without the low-fi warmth found earlier.
The evening started with a dramatic tone as the band, including the addition of fellow Sub Pop recording artist Eric Johnson on guitar and synths, strolled out to a dimly lit stage with the droning sounds of the new "Sleeping Lessons" already playing. As the band settled in, frontman James Mercer's voice immediately pierced through dark as the song began to swell until the art punk, double-time outro. With the first track of the new album opening the night, The Shins ran all the way through the new album's fourth track, with the carefree pop of "Australia," the effects-laden "Pam Berry" and the jangly "Phantom Limb" providing a good sense of the new material.
Earlier work from the 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World and the 2003 followup Chutes Too Narrow received the most applause throughout the night, such as the haunting acoustic of "New Slang," which brings to mind Nick Drake, or the powerful, fan favorite "Kissing the Lipless," which featured drummer Jesse Sandoval pushing things along. Other notables garnering the crowd's approval were an electronica or Radioheadesque version of "Saint Simon" and a down-tempo, lounge take on "Girl On A Wing."
With new material, new versions of old songs, a few instant classics and the same sincere but not too serious stage persona of The Shins, the performance only lagged when a slow song was mashed between two energetic ones but left most in the crowd happily entertained with variety and an upbeat encore of "Pressed In A Book" and "So Says I."
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