A movie character thrust the Shins into mainstream popularity 13 years ago, declaring the band’s song “New Slang” a life-changer. The movie was “Garden State,” the actress was Natalie Portman and the film changed the Shins’ course of history, commercially and otherwise.
In the time since, the band has navigated a wave of changes, including a move to a new label, a near-breakup and a personnel purge.
Thursday night at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, the Shins performed in Kansas City for the first time in nearly five years, and they unveiled a new lineup and some new music before a big crowd that gave them a hearty welcome all night long.
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The Shins are touring on “Heartworms,” their first album in five years, which was released in March. They played five of its tracks, mixing them with some of their best-known material from four previous albums, starting with the show’s opening number, “Caring Is Creepy” from their 2001 “Oh, Inverted World” album.
The new songs are heavier and more percussive than previous material, but they all blended nicely, showcasing the song craftwork and pop sensibilities of frontman James Mercer, the band’s only remaining founding member.
These days, he is backed by a five-piece band that includes three members who joined in 2016 and who add new dimensions to the band’s live sounds. During “Mildenhall,” a “Heartworms” track, Patti King, one of two keyboardists, added some filigrees on the violin. During “The Fear,” one of three encore songs, she and two other members formed a string trio.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to the new songs, singing along to some of them, but it saved its loudest ovations for older material, like “Mine’s Not a High Horse,” “Girl Inform Me,” “Kissing the Lipless” and “Australia.” Most of the songs were performed close to their recorded versions, fortified with some extra instrumentation — an extra guitar or more keyboards. A couple were rearranged, like “Gone for Good,” which was recast as a slower, darker lament.
They saved some of the bigger moments for late in the 80-minute set, starting with “Phantom Limb,” a hit from “Wincing the Night Away,” now 10 years old. The singalong to that was one of the loudest all night.
They waited until the encore to drop “New Slang,” which stirred a palpable wave of nostalgia across the room. They weren’t done, however. They closed with “Sleeping Lessons,” another “Wincing” track, which they fused with a measure of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” That aroused a big cheer and singalong.
After that, Mercer and his new, revived lineup joined arms and took a bow, soaking up the ovation raining upon them and proving that sometimes, life changes for the best.
Caring is Creepy; Australia; Name for You; Mine’s Not a High Horse; Girl Inform Me; Gone For Good; Mildenhall; St. Simon; Kissing the Lipless; So Now What; Painting a Hole; The Rifle’s Spiral; Half a Million; Phantom Limb; Simple Song. Encore: The Fear; New Slang; Sleeping Lessons/American Girl.