Oh, Inverted World: The Shins Live in Atlanta

Photos and Review by Tyler Sterling

Roughly thirty minutes and change into the Oh, Inverted World reunion tour, James Mercer coyly admits to the crowd, “… and that’s the whole record. It’s only thirty-three minutes or so.”  It was like seeing Plymouth rock in person—much more towering in concept than reality. The crowd had practically just synced into a shared frequency before the latest iteration of the lineup breezed through tracks from other albums in The Shins’ catalogue.

If this is a review of a show honoring The Shins debut 2001 album, Oh, Inverted World!, we will invert the way we think about a live show. You know how this one started. There was applause in the beginning, throughout the show, and then at the end. Beer was spilled. A six-foot-something guy stood in the front, blocking the view for a few bitter audience members in his wake. Someone sang too loud during a quiet part of an acoustic track. We clapped. We shouted the lyrics back to the lyricist. And per contract with the musical gods, the band walked offstage at the end and then returned for an encore.     

Let’s redirect our focus to that moment—only thirty-three minutes or so into the show.

Find a comfortable spot atop Plymouth Rock and we will dive into this show at the most illogical and inverted place, right in the middle.

Part of the genius of The Shins’ songwriting has always been how its unburdened by the weight of its many crafty lyrical turns of phrase. The album starts off with a mouthful—”I think I’ll go home and mull this over/ Before I cram it down my throat/ At long last it’s crashed, its colossal mass/ Has broken up into bits in my moat.” Somehow, these silver dollar lyrics that would crush most songwriters into a paste are strung into a catchy Beatlesque melodies. These and many other words unintentionally inspired legions of bedroom poets to test their silver tongues and melodic chops in the early 2000s. However, Mercer’s uncanny ability to synthesize enormous feelings into concise indie-pop songs always set him apart from the many bookish copycat killers.

Back to minute thirty-three or so. Once it was announced that the album was over, there was a brief moment when the venue lost gravity. Weightless, we noticed the massive wintery backdrop of the Oh, Inverted World! album cover projected behind the band who looked ready to jump into fan favorites from other records just to end our freefalling. Bottles of light beer floated in midair. Tour posters got caught in the rafters.  It was a tangled-up room full of people who realized that they all separately discovered Plymouth Rock over twenty years ago and then collectively forgot what it looked like.

How could a piece of music with such a short runtime occupy so many minutes of our lives? How many times had each of us in the audience tried to duet with “New Slang” as it poured out of car speakers, just loud enough to hide behind Mercer’s polished croon? How many daydreams have we conjured about these strange combinations of words and melody? Maybe Mercer was wondering the same thing. He had a lot riding on this record release as a college dropout who was given a chance to prove himself by the iconic Sub Pop Records. How many months did it take him to write and record each of the eleven tracks until he felt that Oh, Inverted World! was ready to represent him as a musician?

We can never really predict the lifespan of a piece of music. On a hot summer night in Atlanta, it became clear that the album isn’t only thirty-three minutes or so long—it’s over twenty years long and counting.

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