A Saturday of Firsts — The Shins and Salvador Sobral Make History



Saturday, May 13, was a day of firsts for this music lover and many others.

Around 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 27-year-old Portuguese crooner ξSalvador Sobral swept the 2017 Eurovisionξtalent competition.

Salvador Sobral performs “Amar Pelos Dois” at Eurovision 2017.

Up until then, Portugal hadŒæthe longest-running losing record in the global talent competition — 53 years.

I admit: I tuned in for comic relief. EurovisionŒæhad become a campy source ofŒæamusement for me and my friends. WeŒæshared many laughsŒæat past years’ corny, wholesome Œæsinging groups, self-serious machismos in unitards and divas with big hair and sequined outfits. The exuberant, canned arrangements recalledŒæcandy bar commercials or, worse yet, corporate training videos from the ’80s.

Then came Sobral.

The slender balladeerŒædefied typecasts with a sweet, strings-and-piano-kissed dittyŒæcalled “Amar Pelos Dois (Love for Both),” written by his sister Luisa.

Impish and slightly shy, Sobralξemoted in lilting tones withξslight creaks and curious tics, as if he might buckleξunderξthe weight of the poignant lyrics. Aξbeard barelyξbetrayed his youthful face, asξhis big brown eyes lit up withξsurprise whenξapplause erupted mid-song.

His instant classic hit all the sweet spots.

Later, during his acceptance speech, Sobral called his win a victory for “real music,”Œæ appealingŒæfor a shift from “disposable pop.”

The Shins’ current lineup includes James Mercer ( guitar and vocals), Yuuki Matthews (bass), Jon Sortland (drums), Mark Watrous (guitar, keys, vocals), Casey Foubert (guitar) and Patti King (keys).

At 8 p.m. EST that same day,Œæaround 2,000 fans hemmed in downtown St. Petersburg’s ŒæJannus Live. to see Portland, Ore.-basedŒæindie-pop act The Shins play itsŒæfirst Florida show –Œæ16 years after the band’s debut studio album.

A pastel-and-blackξbackdrop displayed the cover illustrationξfrom the current album, Heartworms, and flowers festooned the equipment asξa light show added dazzling color to the sold-out show presented by Live Nation and No Clubs.

Mercer sang mightily, infusing post-punk and British Invasion influencesξРforeshadowed byξa fantastic pre-show playlist that included Gary Numan and The Zombies.

Surfer Blood opened the show.

West Palm Beach’s Surfer Blood — the band that just about every florida indie fan would choose to open for the Shins — started the night with an upbeat but slightly subdued set of their Beach Boys-inspired pop, blessed with co-ed harmonies and tight musicianship. They capped off the their smash anthem of survival, “Swim.”

The tune’s urgency wasn’t lost on frontmanŒæJohn Paul Pitts, who has been through a lot recently,Œælosing a beloved bandmate to cancer and outed in an alleged domestic violenceŒæscandal, but he and his band gave a solid performance if not the sprightly display of their Tampa Bay debut at Crowbar seven years ago. Opening for the Shins, Pitts said, was a dream come true, and Shins frontman James Mercer reciprocated later,Œænaming Surfer Blood one of his favorites.

While some introspective singer-songwriters shrink in front of a crowd, the Shins’ singer-guitarist-master poet held forth with amiable confidence, commanding the stage in his signature sea cap and showing his age with a salt-and-pepper beard.

Shins frontman James Mercer performs “Kissing the Lipless” from Chutes Too Narrow.

MercerŒæeffused contagious delight, as did hisŒænew batch of players: ŒæYuuki Matthews (bass), Jon Sortland (drums), Mark Watrous (guitar, keys, vocals), Casey Foubert (guitar) and Patti King (keys). Their enthusiastic camaraderie and spot-on harmonies conveyedŒæan impression that they’d played with MercerŒæfrom the start.

Their set opened with Œæfirst song that was an introduction for many, “Caring is Creepy,” the baroque Zombies-like first track of Oh, Inverted World,Œæthe band’s studio debut.

Capturing the realizations, anxieties and strugglesŒæexamined duringŒæmidlife, releases from Heartworms dominated with punch and mania. äóìKinda gross, right?äó Mercer said of the new album’s title. äóìLifeäó»s kind of gross. Gross and beautiful.äó

Mercer’s ability to translate our baser human momentsŒæinto luminous, poetic pop has been his stock-in-trade as an indie rock star, and this talent was in full effect during the Jannus concert. He expressedŒæemotion but never came across too overwrought or treacly; he was assertive butŒæjust self-deprecating enough to be endearing.

His highlights included the post-breakup rave-up “Kissing the Lipless” from Chutes to Narrow and “Girl Inform Me” from Oh, Inverted World. ŒæNoticeably missing were “Know Your Onion” and “So Says I.” Nor did they play any of his Broken Bells singles.

Mercer’s knack for balance, hitting those aforementioned sweet spots and knowing when to rein it in orŒægo balls-out cathartic with raspy howls Œæshowed off his Lennon-McCarthy tutelage.

After an exhilarating belt-outŒæof “Simple Song,” Mercer and his posse waved goodbye but returnedŒæin short order in a mock ŒæNapoleonic rally across the catwalk. Mercer rode piggyback onŒæguitaristŒæWatrous, waving a red Solo cup in the air over a jubilant crowd.

Bassist Yuuki Matthews and Mercer perform midway through the set at the May 13, 2017 show.


A booming finale featured a rousing “Sleeping Lessons” from Wincing the Night AwayŒæand its metaphorical command — So enlist every ounce of your bright blood, and off with their heads” — in a mash-up with Tom Petty’s “American Girl” — a fitting choice for a Florida debut.

Earlier in the evening, Mercer reacted with surpriseŒæto the sing-along toŒæ”Phantom Limb.” He called the crowd “a bunch of music lovers,” adding,”That song is for all the music lovers.äó

It was uncanny, maybe just to me, that the 47-year-old singer-guitarist echoed almost word for word the sentiments of a young Portuguese contest winner four hours earlier from halfway around the world.

And allow me to say, being in agreement with a plurality doesn’t happen too often when you grow up on a steady diet of counter culture and distrust of commercial music. Let alone twice in one day.

Good music is the ultimate equalizer. A well-crafted melody with thoughtful instrumentation can transcend generations, niches and Œætrends — whether it’s in a tricked-out International Exhibition Centre in Kiev or a concrete patio in central Florida.



Caring Is Creepy

So Now What

Kissing the Lipless

Name for You


Mine’s Not a High Horse

Girl Inform Me

Gone for Good


Saint Simon

Painting a Hole

The Rifle’s Spiral

Half a Million

Phantom Limb

Simple Song


New Slang

The Fear

Sleeping Lessons

(with “American Girl” by Tom Petty)

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