Alberta Cross are onstage at the Astoria so early that its practically a sound check. Tonight’s eventual sell-out audience can be cut some slack given it’s still three hours before The Shins are due.
The evening has a sleepy Sunday feel to it. Everyone has either been out the night(s) before and are recounting their excesses, or simply trying to shake into the mood of a gig on a dull evening. When you need a tonic of wake up juice you don’t want a plate of tofu.
Ok maybe that’s a little harsh on Alberta Cross. Their music is the important kind people ought to like: lo-fi blues and nu-folk with a coattail of anthemic rushes that makeup their short and sweet Thief & Heartbreaker EP, but they are a subdued ensemble of wallowy blues folk which seems to drift by aimlessly.
I had hoped, prayed and sacrificed a goat midweek, that when The Shins came onstage they would do so with the four song salvo which opens their brilliant new long player Wincing the Night Away. It was a long shot, but they did just that.
It started promisingly, the lullaby intro to Sleeping Lessons ghosted the PA, lifting our spirits excitedly as James Mercer crooned those words: “Glow, melt and flow, eviscerate your fragile frame…” but as the song kicked in, so did Dave Hernandezs bass, exploding into a horrendous bubbling of snaps crackles.
It continued into Australia, revealing how flat the setup was tonight. The Shins seemed unconcerned and played through at breakneck speed, moving into Pam Berry and Phantom Limb. It lacked the emotion and the controlled delivery so prevalent on record.
Maybe that was the trade off. I’d never seen the Shins before this point, and imagined that the kind of euphoria you feel listening to their music would be migrated into a live environment pretty easily.
It wasn’t to be, even with a sparkling set list that mingled Oh, Inverted World’s indie-anthem Caring Is Creepy with The Modern Lovers’ Someone I Care About.
Their bow did eventually perk from its nosedive. The sing-along for New Slang and the crescendo-laden closer So Says I redeemed them in the end. Like all geniuses, flawed they may have been, great they still remain.