The Shins, Viva Voce, Jeremy Warmsley

Mike Mantin 28/03/2007

The Shins' finely-crafted, moving and persistently tuneful songs sometimes unintentionally make me cast a spotlight on the lack of British bands doing pop in the same magical way. So it's a welcome surprise for their stay in London to be accompanied by the capital's own Jeremy Warmsley, who writes cosy, catchy songs in the mould set partly by tonight's headliners. Backed by a bassist and drummer, Warmsley admits his band are “shitting ourselves” but there's no need - the fine songwriting and impressive musicianship of his album 'The Art Of Fiction' shines through perfectly and there's hints of a bigger sound in the new tracks, impressively expansive for a three-piece band.

Next up are Viva Voce, a husband and wife duo who trade equally in cute guitar-pop and long, fiddly guitar solos. Again, they make an impressive but tight racket for a two-piece though, as technically impressive as their rock-outs are, the mind tends to wander when they insert them into yet another track. Still, it's a fine set, with a nice balance of acoustic ditties like 'Get Yr Blood Sucked Out' with the huge riffing of 'Alive With Pleasure'. Confident and very tight, their rather intensive touring schedule, which includes mountains of dates with The Shins (convenient, as Viva Voce's Anita guests on their single 'Phantom Limb', allowing her to pop up on that and other songs tonight), has clearly helped them hone their distinctive style.

The Shins' decade together has put them in exactly the same positon. They stride on to the gentle opening synth line of 'Sleeping Lessons' then, a couple of minutes in, the song suddenly explodes. Audience members' heads bop and smiles are instantly plastered on as the huge guitars make their entrance and James Mercer breaks into a yelp: this is the sound of a band who know what they're doing. Most of the songs tonight are so beloved by the audience that the band members change things round a bit - 'Girl On The Wing' is slowed down and turned into a ballad, while the opposite happens to 'Gone For Good', which beefs up the country twang of the recorded version. Their choice of covers is also intriguing: as well as their frantic cover of The Modern Lovers' 'Someone I Care About', there's a rather inexplicable take on Pink Floyd's 'Breathe', which their multi-layered set-up is well-equipped to handle. It's faithful and engaging, if a rather odd choice.

It's a very smooth show with few fluffed chords or lines, but this is something that sometimes creeps up on the live incarnation of The Shins. Recent single 'Phantom Limb' sounds more workmanlike than its recorded counterpart, while its intro 'Pam Berry' is sped up to frustrating effect. Similarly, 'New Slang''s ubiquity and status as their 'signature song' seems to have caught up on it: there's a hint of contractual obligation in its delivery. This is by no means a feature of the whole show, though: recent album 'Wincing The Night Away''s haunting closing track 'A Comet Appears' makes this soulless Mean Fiddler venue intimate, even drowning out the infuriating man in front of me breaking rule #1 of gig etiquette: talking through the fucking quiet bits. This aside, it's a fine justification of The Shins' position at the top of the US indie-pop tree: cred intact, they've built an incredible back catalogue, much of which is played tonight, that has become hugely popular largely because of the quality of the songs. Closing with the delightfully energetic 'So Says I', this show marks them out both as engaging, passionate performers as well as master songwriters.

More photos from the show