Vetiver – Columbia – Merriweather Post Pavillion, Maryland – 2007-10-22

Where: Columbia – Merriweather Post Pavillion, Maryland.

When: 2007-10-22

It seemed a bit of a stretch to think The Shins could fill at outdoor pavilion the size of Merriweather Post, stuck in the affluent suburbs between Baltimore and DC. On their last jaunt through the area as Wincing The Night Away was just released, having debuted in the Billboard Top 10, they played at a venue that could hold upwards of 3,000 people. Now, close to 6 months later, they were booked at a place that in the past year has hosted a Marilyn Manson/Slayer show, Seal, and, um…Jimmy Buffett. Either the taste of this venue is going south quickly or this is further proof that people are growing sick of such bland acts as Fall Out Boy and someone figured a pairing of The Shins with Spoon would fill seats and serve the greater need. But even with the cream of the indie crop, along with the “freak folk” Vetiver, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been on SNL and on big time movie soundtracks, it doesn’t equate to bodies turning out in droves.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Guessing that sales of a Shins/Vetiver show were slow and with Spoon originally scheduled to perform in DC on that night, someone had the sense to put the two together. Although the pavilion and the field at Merriweather can hold upwards of 15,000 the venue was perhaps half full. This was actually to everyone’s advantage. While not filling the place to capacity it left people thinking these bands were still their own and the bands themselves didn’t need to feel they had to overcompensate in their performances.

Vetiver perhaps played this lack of people the best and it may have actually been one of the larger crowds they’ve performed for. Being hit with the unfortunate opening slot the odds were against them but their update on The Band carried well. Singer/guitarist Andy Cabic, having grown up near the area before relocating to California, related all the shows he had seen, or at least heard, in the woods of Columbia, MD. Truly their sound was most appropriate for the venue. As Merriweather is nestled into the few remaining acres in the area that contains trees, on a crisp autumn night they provided a good soundtrack. Cabic was jovial and humorous in-between songs and the band took to their role well, knowing the daunting task of opening for 2 bands who would have an equal amount of fans showing up. The last several songs of their set were good attention getters, upbeat and rocking, and even their cover of a Fleetwood Mac song was made their own so much it didn’t make me want to vomit at the thought of anything penned by Lindsey Buckingham.

I have no idea where Spoon comes from. Their music and the greatness of it is a sheer anomaly to me. How it is they craft these perfect pop songs, so abnormal and erratic, is a mystery; especially for only 4 men using nothing more than the standard rock and roll set up. Each album becomes better than the last while containing both experimental moments and more radio friendly songs. Fresh off their performance at the CMJ festival several days before they stayed in full on rock mode for close to an hour and the crowd ate up every moment. The largest applauses were spread out for the more popular numbers such as “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Underdog,” (complete with 3 piece horn section) as they were for the older numbers such as Girls Can Tell’s “Anything You Want” and “Me And The Bean.” Having a longer than usual set time allowed them to delve deep into their last 4 albums and choosing songs that aren‘t necessarily the best ones for a crowd of a few thousand. But after playing the festival circuits all summer songs such as “The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine” took on a new passion with Britt Daniel knowing when to use the rougher side of his voice. As their popularity grows their live show gets better, easily replicating the magic they use in the studio.

The Shins on the other hand are known for not being able to transmit their America meets Weezer rock from album to stage. It’s not so much that they are bad performers or give lackluster shows; their music isn’t suited for such large live performances, especially when you have to play to the fields. Oh, Inverted World was crafted especially for listening to alone; so intimate and close, even in the more exciting songs. James Mercer is rather reluctant to play to the spotlight and is so earnest it doesn’t feel like an act. Though Wincing The Night Away attempts larger than life moments, in the context of the live performance they don’t hold up well with the older material. Walking on stage as the opening underwater bubbles of “Sleeping Lessons” played seemed like a grand statement, more so when the stage hands unveiled a large backdrop of the album cover at the crucial moment of the song. It was all very big and rock and roll, which is to say, not very Shins-like at all. On such a large stage, literally and figuratively, they seemed somewhat lost. The now obligatory performance of “New Slang” was slowed down and songs such as “Pink Bullets” didn’t carry well. What did work, not surprisingly, were songs with more power to them, “Sea Legs” and “Turn A Square,” for example. And as proof the band was short on material to appease the crowd, they returned to the encore for a performance of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe.” (Incidentally a version of the song is expected to be released soon.)

Each band proved in their own way they are capable, and deserving of, a wider audience. Vetiver and Spoon have no problems projecting this with their live shows while The Shins may be able to do so over time. The difficulty for them is managing to find a closeness with the audience their songs are for.