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Incarnations

James Mercer

The Shins and I go way back. They’re based in Portland; I’m from Portland. They contributed to the Garden State soundtrack; I snuck in to see Garden State multiple times when I was 16. The Shins are also my concert beard — I tend to tell people their 2006 show in Portland was the first concert I attended, when in mortifying actuality it was Clay Aiken in Seattle two years earlier. Anyway, The Shins are back! 

The Shins have endured many incarnations, with one constant: James Mercer. As the creator, lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist, Mercer is the hinge on which the revolving door of band members spins. Started in 1997 as Mercer’s side project, while his main band at the time — Flake Music — dissolved, Mercer dove headlong into what would become The Shins. He recruited previous band mate, Jesse Sandoval, to be the drummer and their first shows were played as a duo. Now, 15 years, some rare indie drama, and six band members later, Mercer leads a new quartet on tour in support of their current album Port of Morrow.

Since their first release in 2001, The Shins’ sound has evolved. Oh, Inverted World had a quirky ethereal quality that only Zach Braff and Natalie Portman’s chemistry could rival, and the vocals had that charming singing-into-a-tin-can quality.  

Port of Morrow is different. It’s less ethereal and more grounded. Less quirky and more mainstream — but still effortlessly soundtrack-worthy and addicting. Mercer’s vocals are more aggressive and powerful. On the track “Simple Song,” the vocals dip and soar so impeccably clear, they’re at times reminiscent of a super hip ’80s power-pop song. And yet, they still manage to sound like The Shins. 

The Shins play 7 pm Friday, Sept. 28, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; $30 adv., $35 door.