One of the odd features about the Portland music scene is that bands known for attracting young, hip crowds in other markets can be considered passé if not even adult-contemporary here. By rough estimates, the average age this night in PDX was about 42. Now that's average, so I'm saying there was a large portion of the audience who were well into their late 50's. Thus, while my initial instinct was that the classy, seated Keller Auditorium was an odd place for a rock and roll show, I quickly realized that most of these folks were quite pleased to be off their feet.
Washed Out opened up the gig, and while they were both emotionally and sonically an ideal match for the bill, I don't think they won over any new fans at the show. Folks were there to settle into the introverted noggin of James Mercer, and the opening band just meant more free-time to consume red wine out of Dixie cups. And that's way too fucking bad, because the synth-heavy dream-pop of Ernest Greene was utterly mesmerizing for those bothering to take notice. I had expected to just see Greene alone on stage behind a few laptops, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw an actual drummer as well as two other musicians up there. Sure, they were all on keyboards but still the sound was massive and seemed like it could feel as equally at home in a late-night festival slot as it did in this room intended for classical orchestras. When they closed with "Feel it All Around," at least half of the crowd perked up realizing it was the theme song to Portlandia, but it was too little too late by that point. I definitely had one of those, "Shit, this band is way too good to be this disregarded" moments, but such is the path of the opening act.
The Shins subsequently took the stage to a roaring ovation, albeit one with everyone's butts still firmly planted. Now admittedly, the seats in the Keller are quite plush, kind of like those ones in newer movie theaters that charge $14 a ticket. But still feeling some vitality in my early 30's, I chose to be one of the 15 obnoxious people in the room who didn't give a fuck about how elderly or overweight the person sitting behind me was, and stood proudly among the daunting glares. It wouldn't be until halfway through the set, when the fuzzed out bass intro for "Phantom Limb" started up that people suddenly realized they were at a rock concert. It seemed to me they should have opened with their most popular song so as to grab the nuts of the casual head-nodders, and it felt like some of the earlier tunes suffered from a lackluster response. "Simple Song" is a ripping track, and just 3 tunes into a set there's no need for it to be met with such hesitation. Of course the band didn't really seem to notice or care, but I was definitely feeling the evil eye of a woman wearing a tacky polka-dot dress digging into my back side. But like I said, once everybody belted along the "Whoa-Oh-Whoa" outro of "Phantom Limb," the room finally found some life.
The band itself was incredibly tight, and even for a fella who's fired 8 members of his group already, there didn't seem to be any reason why Mercer would be dropping any of these guys soon. New songs molded seamlessly with older cuts off Chutes Too Narrow, and there weren't any moments where it felt like they hadn't all been doing this together for a long time. When "New Slang" emerged towards the end of the set, it was easily the most accurately complicated sing-along I've ever had the pleasure to witness. Despite the dark undertones of most of these tunes, there's a thriving buoyancy to them when a few thousand people are hearing them outside of their iPods for the first time. Add to that the fact that James Mercer seemed consistently overjoyed throughout the entire concert, and you have yourself a pretty darn radical rock showcase. I suppose he could have been enamored with the thought that he would be sleeping in his own bed at the end of the night, but he did appear to be taking some actual pleasure in being a rock star this evening.