I've always been fond of Antonio Gramsci's line "I am a pessimist because of intelligence and an optimist by will", but there was very little will involved in enjoying the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend at Williamsburg Park on a gorgeous, 70 degree day, seeing a band like The Shins. The glorious weather seemed to have a very direct effect on everyone's mood, as there were huge, The Joker-esque smiles on nearly every face. It was the season-opening show for Williamsburg Park and the first time I'd seen a show there, and things literally could not have gone any better: the place was full but not too crowded, beer and food lines moved quickly, and sweet fancy Moses The Shins absolutely killed it.
Opener Man Man set the stage with a uproarious set of their wild ass brand of experimental, piano-driven rock and got the attention of the talkative crowd quickly. I'd always heard the Philadelphia band was something to behold live, and they certainly lived up to the hype with frontman Honus Honus storming the afternoon stage like he owned the place. For all of their fur coat wearing and alien mask sporting antics, Man Man absolutely did not mess around when it came to the music and their excellent set had quite a few people headed to their merch table when they were finished.
The way The Shins took the stage pretty much said it all about the afternoon as James Mercer and company emerged from backstage sporting grins and cups of Brooklyn Brewery beer and looked as if they had just walked into an old friend's living room. For as laid back and pleased as the band seemed when they came out, they wasted no time lighting into the set, opening with a somewhat surprising wall of dissonant sound that bled effortlessly into "The Rifle's Spiral".
This would set the tone for the entire show, as the the band often showcased the ability to stretch out songs past their arrangements on The Shins' various records. For a band with such a well produced and tuneful catalog it was very cool to see them trying new things, as almost every song was tinkered with, and done so very effectively. This current incarnation of The Shins is truly something else and even the career-changing classic "New Slang" featured an intro berthed out of a reverb-drenched jam at the end of "Port Of Morrow". I literally said "wow" out loud at this point as it was the end of the set and The Shins had kept the audience on it's heels the entire time while not eschewing any of their much beloved songs.
Bands as big as The Shins sometimes have a difficult time walking the line between pleasing people by playing "the hits" while not becoming simply a nostalgia act that mindless crank out songs, but the deft touch James Mercer's group put on each song managed to do just that to what was honestly an amazing degree. It might have been the sun, it might have been how cool Williamsburg Park is, it might have been the gorgeous, joint offering girl dancing next to me, but I was truly taken aback at just how plain fun the whole thing was. If everyone could spend their Sundays like this, all the Zoloft and Prozac in New York City could get tossed into the Hudson. For information on how to have your own life-affirming afternoon in the sun, check out Williamsburg Park's website here and The Shins' website right here.
Check out this fan shot video of "Australia" from the show: