James Mercer could have been rightly apprehensive when taking to the stage with the new incarnation of The Shins. It’s fair to say the New Mexico outift hold a special place for a lot of Melbournians, and when Mercer brought in an entirely new line-up for their latest album Port Of Morrow, there were some misgivings about the rest of the band. But after last night’s Splendour In The Grass sideshow, any apprehension fans might have had well and truly flew out the doors of Festival Hall.

Before the main event, Husky soothed the audience with their brooding indie-folk. While it was certainly a solid set, the moody vibe of their music didn’t quite translate to the crowd. It felt as if Husky couldn’t truly engage the audience, with the exception of some of their better known tracks like ‘The Woods’ and ‘History’s Door’.

When The Shins came out it was an entirely different story. For almost two hours an enthralled Melbourne audience were taken on a journey through the best of The Shins -new and old. With six members in total on stage, the sound and energy was incredible.

Opening the set with ‘Caring Is Creepy’, from 2001’s Oh, Inverted World, and old favourite ‘Kissing The Lipless’ Mr. Mercer had the crowd immediately at the mercy of him and his new troupe. ‘Simple Song’ was the first offering of the new material and translated even better in the live setting, an incredibly tight sound with all the flourishes and layers oozing off the stage. If anything, it left the crowd wondering why it sounded so much better live than on record.

The change in energy and power from previous appearances by The Shins was a complete and welcome surprise. The addition of multi-instrumentalists Richard Swift and Yuuki Matthews, drummer Joe Plummer, and guitarist Jessica Dobson has worked wonders for The Shins in the live setting.

There were the obvious choices from past records with ‘Australia’ and ‘Phantom Limb’ eliciting a crowd sing-along and older favourites like ‘Saint Simon’ and ‘New Slang’ had everyone smiling. One clear mid-set highlight was ‘So Says I’ which once again saw the sound exploding from the stage.

The ever-important science behind a set list is a tricky one, especially for a headline slot spanning two hours; but the mood and atmosphere ebbed and flowed, each track building the masses up and slowly bringing them down.  On this occasion it was almost faultless, barring the very end.

The unquestionable highlight was the finisher for the main set ‘Sleeping Lessons’. The song’s eerie intro coupled with drummer Joe Plummer ringing bells in each of the other member’s microphones while also sprinkling water on the stage, was ritualistic and the perfect build up to the crux of the song.

The obligatory early walk off took place, the crowd played their part stomping and howling for more. Mercer emerged on his own for the encore to serenade the audience with new track ‘September’ before being joined by the rest of the band and launching into the epic title track for the new record ‘The Port of Morrow’.

The droning shoegaze-like closing track tested the audience slightly and was perhaps not appropriately placed, but it couldn’t undo the amazing display they had produced.

The new line-up worked better than the crowd could have hoped for and perhaps highlighted most importantly that these perfectly crafted pop songs are what stand out the most – not necessarily the people playing them.

– Gabe Andrews