James Mercer by Larry Hirshowitz

When The Shins played a private show for KCRW, one thing really stood out to me: James Mercer seems happy.

And during his interview with KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley, he confirmed that he’s a late bloomer hitting his stride — now married with two young children and clearly inspired by his time working with producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) as part of Broken Bells.

I’ve always loved The Shins but there is something special about the new album “Port of Morrow”, an album five years in the making if you count the time since the release of the last Shins CD.

The band, led by Mercer and at times accompanied by the wonderful Watson Twins on backup vocals, played a career spanning set: kicking off with “Rifle Spiral” from the latest album straight into “Australia” from “Wincing the Night Away” and later delighting the audience with “New Slang”, the song that undoubtedly introduced most of the attendees at Apogee’s Berkley Street Studio to the band.

The highlight of the night for me was hearing James talk about writing “Simple Song”, a song about his wife (if you haven’t read the lyrics, I recommend it).

He talks about how his little girls would always gravitate toward him when he was working on the track, dancing around. He adds that they seem to have an ear for pop and the smile on his face as he talked about them said everything. He told Jason how having kids makes life seem to fly by and you reflect on your own mortality, which is what “Port of Morrow” is about. It sounds heavy, but these are some of the most upbeat, poppy songs he’s ever written (“No Way Down” was another highlight of the evening).

Everything about this show was pure joy.

I felt happy to be witnessing James on this point in his journey as a musician and proud that KCRW can help share his music with the world.

View a set list below as well as photos by Larry Hirshowitz. This session was recorded and will air on KCRW on Thursday, May 3.

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The Shins Live on KCRW Set List (recorded at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio)
RIFLE SPIRAL
AUSTRALIA
BAIT N SWITCH
SIMPLE SONG
PHANTOM LIMB
ST. SIMON
NO WAY DOWN
IT’S ONLY LIFE
SO SAYS I
NEW SLANG
-ENCORE-
KISSING THE LIPLESS
PORT OF MORROW

The Shins by Larry Hishowitz

James Mercer by Larry Hirshowitz

Jason Bentley + James Mercer by Larry Hirshowitz

James Mercer by Larry Hirshowitz

James Mercer and the Watson Twins by Larry Hirshowitz

Jessica Dobson by Larry Hirshowitz

James Mercer by Larry Hirshowitz

Jason Bentley and The Shins by Larry Hirshowitz

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