Better than a kick in The Shins

Having a McDonald’s commercial under your belt, being referenced multiple times on teenage tele-dramas “The O.C.” and “Gilmore Girls” and appearing on a summer-release movie soundtrack would normally be more than enough to kill any band’s musical reputation.

Funny thing is, none of these faux pas even dented Sub-Pop Records’ fastest sellers, The Shins’, solid-gold name-and they did them all.

The band began in Albuquerque, N.M.-a town notoriously devoid of an established rock “scene”-and their sound is somewhere between The Beach Boys and The Beta Band. It’s an amalgam of catchy hooks mated to thought-provoking lyrics. Lead singer James Mercer’s voice is spicy and endearing. The Shins are everything you’d want in a rock band.

Simply put, they’re extraordinary.

And people are catching on.

So much was evident last Thursday, May 27, when The Shins, The Fiery Furnaces and Azita played at In The Venue to a packed crowd of diverse concertgoers.

At the show, there were as many people upstairs in the over-21 section of the club as there were downstairs in the general admission dance floor. This heterogeneity in attendance is a testament to The Shins’ versatility and broad acceptance: It’s almost impossible to dislike this band.

Even the acts The Shins chose to open for them were a perfect mix of strange and sublime.

Azita, the first opening act last Thursday, was kind of like Ben Folds with ovaries and backed by a blues-rock jam band doomed to only play the lounge scene. The band is essentially Azita Youseffi, who pounds emphatically on the ivory keys of her piano while tossing her raspy voice to and fro on songs from her most recent album, Life on the Fly.

While not quite polished enough to be phenomenal, Azita’s noise is unique and inventive. Her stage show was just weird enough for people to not ask questions, but not quite good enough for anyone to really pay attention.

The coolest brother/sister musical duo not married to each other or named after a color, The Fiery Furnaces, played a slightly better show than Azita.

The story goes that Matt Friedberger bought his sister Eleanor a guitar for her birthday because he had no idea what to get her. He passed a store window with a six-string on display, impulsively bought it and the rest, as they say, is history-The Furnaces started soon after.

The music The Furnaces play is a delightful mix of Casio synth beats, epileptic percussion and distorted guitar. The Furnaces sound like Jack White or Julian Casablancas plugged into a Galactica video game; kind of like the music on Tetris when you’re playing expert mode-really fast and crazy. Only, The Furnaces play songs (sung primarily by Eleanor) about losing pets and eating blueberries. And their transitions are solid. And The Furnaces couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else on the planet, except maybe Mates of State, from far, far away.

Of course, though, nobody came to see Azita or The Furnaces.

While the crowd haphazardly applauded both openers, there was no real excitement until The Shins stepped on stage.

The band appeared to be well-aware of the high expectations set by the audience, and they didn’t disappoint. With a set list consisting equally of songs off their first album, Oh, Inverted World, as their second, Chutes too Narrow, The Shins hit all the high marks for excellence.

Almost every song was a non-album version of itself, and those familiar with the band responded enthusiastically. Mercer and company opened with a solid version of the fan-favorite “Know Your Onion,” and played consistently until they concluded the encore with the MTV video-having single, “So Says I.”

Highlights of the excellent set included an extended acoustic “Pink Bullets,” a well-translated “Girl on the Wing” and a rocked-out “Mine’s Not a High Horse.”

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