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Reflections on the Shins at the Variety Playhouse and ruminations on some other recent shows
I am a total sucker for a well crafted pop song.

This might come as a bit of a surprise to anyone that is familiar with my standard listening fare, but this secret obsession is nothing new. Let me clarify: when I say "pop", I am not talking about the bubblegum pablum and effluvium that the industry tries to pass as music, but genuinely original, thoughtful and well-created songcraft that appeals to me as both a musician and a human being.

Enter the Shins. There is arguably no other act right now that is producing such catchy and hook-laden music. It's not all necessarily upbeat, but it's all pop. It also has the unique attribute of being something that Selena and I both really like.

Selena bought us tickets to their show last night at the Variety Playhouse. The Variety is definitely one of the better venues in town and I had been looking forward to the show.

I need to go on a sidebar here before I continue: I am a misanthrope. In general, I abhor other people (at least in groups) and find myself dreading to go to events with large numbers of people because I feel those people cannot be trusted to behave. Since I realize I am in the minority here, I generally just opt to avoid situations where I'll get agitated by the behavior of others. For example, Selena and I have never been to a movie together. We both have had enough aggravating experiences in movie theaters that we feel it's just in our best interest to wait until the movie comes out on DVD.

This being said, I do like to go to shows. However, given my general musical tastes, majority of the shows I go to are populated by a fairly homogenous, docile, and, in many cases, stoned crowd. That's my "base" and we'll call "comfort zone".

Poppier music pushes me out of that safety net into the more dirty masses and I tend to get a little tweaked and annoyed by the behaviors of those around me.

So, back to the story. The opening act was the Brunettes and we can just say that the less I have to deal with them the better. They are a New Zealand band that reminds me of the Partridge Family and for their last song (or one of their last songs... I lost track) they all donned "Olsen twins" masks and played their instruments. It was like musical Carrot Top and I was happy when their set ended.

The crowd consisted of a lot of frat boys and their girlfriends/wives. There were quite a few visors worn. I am not much of a fan of those who wear visors. At one point, I leaned over to Selena and explained that by playing the music we do, my band would never attract a crowd and, as a pleasant side-effect, would therefore certainly never attract this crowd. Selena wasn't really buying it, though. She still just thinks my music sucks.

The Shins were quite good. They had a lot of energy, their songs were tight. My... complaint... if you can call it this... is that I felt like they acted like they were playing at a frat house (and it seemed obvious that they had experience doing so).

Maybe I should stop now... The Shins are a very good band and if you don't get hung up on the crowd, you'll probably enjoy them live.

In the last three weeks, I have seen Band of Horses (or, more commonly, just "Horses") twice. They opened for Iron & Wine at the Variety a couple of weeks ago, and I caught them again last week at the EARL opening for the Mountain Goats. It's not often that I am blown away by an opening act, but Horses was pretty amazing. There is a bias here, Ben Bridwell is the younger brother of Mike Bridwell, who is a close friend and, until last December, neighbor. I had seen and enjoyed Ben's previous band, Carissa's Wierd, but Horses is much better. Their sound definitely has some roots in Crazy Horse, but there's a Pac-NW sound in there, too. There's some old Modest Mouse and a lot of Black Heart Procession and it's just good.

Iron & Wine, of course, is great as well. Again, there's bias. I&W's drummer, Jonathan Bradley, also happens to be the drummer in my band. If you are familiar with Iron & Wine, your reaction might be "drummer?!?", but, indeed, Sam Beam tours with a full band. Jonathan also plays "shaker" and other various wussy percussion on the albums. Sam has begun to rearrange some of his older songs to take advantage of the extra instrumentation, but sometimes it goes a bit far. "Bird Eating Bread" sounded like a Jimmy Buffett song. I sort of hope this is just Sam getting used to all the toys at his disposal.

A quick note on the crowds of these two shows: Iron & Wine's was ok, but there was a bit too many of the "indie-rocker idolaters" of the variety that haunt "Low" and "Pedro the Lion" shows and stand in reverence and yell, "We love you" to the band.

Maybe because the headliners were the Mountain Goats, and it's hard to imagine anyone shouting "we love you" to John Darnielle, the crowd at the EARL was much better. Ah, sweet, sweet EARL...


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