In anticipation of the March 10 release of Heartworms, The Shins performed seven new songs at a sold-out show at Pomona's Fox Theater on Saturday night. James Mercer, whose band celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has said that Heartworms, the follow-up to 2012's Port of Morrow, is more classically Shins: "I made a concerted effort on some songs to fit the palette, to use the palette that I've historically used for the band."
The packed crowd cheered loudly as the bandmembers walked onto the stage, which was decorated with the colorful floral images and skull featured on Heartworms' album artwork, designed by Cartoon Network's Jacob Escobedo. The night opened with "So Now What," the single originally written for Zach Braff's 2014 film Wish I Was Here that will be included on the new album. It was a fitting way in which to begin the night, a nod to when the band's songs appeared in Braff's 2004 directorial debut Garden State, catapulting The Shins to widespread popularity. "[This song will] change your life, I swear," Natalie Portman's character had promised.
Mercer introduced the first new song of the night, "Half a Million," by telling the audience: "We're going to ask a favor: We are going to play a new song that you have not heard." He then promised, "It's real good." Other new songs included "Mildenhall," "Cherry Hearts," "Painting a Hole" and "Name for You."
Although the band performed many songs from the upcoming fifth album, The Shins' entire catalog was included in the set list, and the classics were met with rapturous applause, from Oh, Inverted World's "Girl Inform Me" to Chutes Too Narrow's "Saint Simon" to Wincing the Night Away's "Australia." Each of these favorites was greeted with loud cheers, and fans immediately sang-along with Mercer. A few of the songs had subtle changes from the album versions, such as "Gone for Good," which was slightly slower and had a more pointed harmonica introduction in the live version.
Before performing "Mine's Not a High Horse" from Chutes Too Narrow, Mercer playfully said, "I just need one second to breathe the air. I'll pretend like my guitar needs tuning and seem like a diligent person, seem like I give a sh--." The break was needed, as the singer expended an impressive amount of energy throughout the night, feeding off the enthusiasm from the audience. "You guys are like gasoline on a f---ing fire!" he exclaimed. As he performed, he often did a sort-of running man dance, waving his arms side to side.
By the time the band performed sixth new song "Fantasy Island," Mercer acknowledged: "Thank you, guys, for being so responsive to the new stuff." He then admitted that when he first hears a new song, he doesn't immediately love it, citing Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O Mine" as an example. "Later on I totally love the song, but the first time I hear it …" he said.
For the encore, the band touched upon classic Shins numbers "Kissing the Lipless" and "New Slang" -- for which the entire venue was filled with everyone singing "oooo" during the introduction. As soon as the instrumental beginning of "Sleeping Lessons" was heard, loud cheers erupted once again. Fans were seen dancing to the song's upbeat middle section, as all the instruments coalesced together. As a special treat, the song surprisingly segued to a cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," of which fans also knew by heart, loudly singing: "Oh yeah! All right! Take it easy, baby! Make it last all night! She was an American girl!"
At the end of the night, Mercer expressed his immense gratitude to the crowd, explaining, "This is our third show for this record, and you guys are just way beyond." As he had mused earlier that fans might have to listen to the new songs a few more times before loving them, he promised, "This is just the beginning ..."
The Shins' set list:
So Now What
Half a Million
Mine's Not a High Horse
Girl Inform Me
Gone for Good
The Rifle's Spiral
Painting a Hole
Name for You
Caring Is Creepy
Kissing the Lipless