In Festival Guide Reviews

The Shins helped close out Summerfest 50 at the BMO Harris Pavilion.

The Shins close out Summerfest's last day with their first visit

Ending a 10-year Milwaukee hiatus, The Shins' return began with them playfully hitting the stage to the "Laverne and Shirley" theme song. Opening with "Caring is Creepy," the band's hypnotic and slightly eerie melodies carried the night. No longer youngsters or strangers to the road, it's almost shocking it took them this long to make their Henry Maier Festival Park grounds debut. The appreciative Summerfest crowd responded as if they were old friends.

Many fans' go-to Shins tune is "New Slang," which was during their run on the seminal underground label, Sub Pop. In the film "Garden State," Natalie Portman proclaims "this song will change your life." Little did she know she was saying it to the band, as well as Zach Braff. The song is the biggest marker of The Shins 1.0.

With sudden fame comes complications, and that was the case for founder James Mercer. The heat of being lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter added up to an unworkable situation. He basically closed up shop in the late 2000s, working collaboratively with Danger Mouse to form a formidable side project, Broken Bells. After producing a couple of solid albums, the time away allowed him a chance to regroup and begin Shins 2.0, and fans were thrilled to have them back. Diehards take exception to his firing the original members, but when you're the boss …

Polished and clean, this mature version of The Shins is the group that came rolling into Summerfest behind their latest release, "Heartworm," which already yielded the hit single "Name for You." At Sunday night's show, Mercer masterfully reproduced the sweet syrup on the chorus. The reconstituted six-piece featured Jon Scortland (also from Broken Bells) on drums, Mark Watrous and Casey Foubert on guitar, Yuuki Matthews on bass, and Patti King on keys and violin. They provided a nice complement to Mercer's vocals and direction.

The new music has a roots-rock feel that was evident on "Gone for Good" and "Mildenhall." "So What Now," which was used in another Braff film, "Wish I Was Here," played well live. A large, drooping Grateful Dead skull hanging behind them didn't seem to dampen the energy or spirit of the night. It just seemed out of place while the crowd LaLaLa'd on "St Simon."

Mercer didn't do a lot of banter, but his lead-in to the new single, "Half a Million," was notable. He told the crowd that the song asks, "What are we supposed to be?" He then elaborated, "To your kids you're one person, to your wife you're another and to your co-workers another. Sometimes it's hard to keep them all straight." Clearly introspective, Mercer soulfully dropped the guitar for this new song and focused on the vocals. He challenged the crowd to remember when they hear this song again to remember they heard it first live.

This set the table for "Phantom Limbs" during which he delivered the line, "So when they tap my Sunday heads, to zombie walk in our stead." Almost on cue, the crowd began to sway their arms from side to side, which continued through the rest of the song. It set up nicely for "Simple Song," sending the crowd into a frenzy of joy, and it was like they were singing backup at times.

The song selections for the encore had the best range I've seen in some time. They began with the super folksy cut from Hearthworms' "The Fear." It was a great way to return to the stage as it featured a new trio of violinists that drew in the crowd. "New Slang" produced a predictable roar for the classic hit.

However, it was the extended version of "Sleeping Lesson" that closed the stage properly. The combination of everyone's high energy and a mid-song segue into Tom Petty's "American Girl" created a buzz that may still be emanating under the BMO roof.

What a wonderful way for Summerfest 2017 to take a bow with The Shins putting on a powerful show.

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