Everything appeared to be too complicated, but everything unfolded with a surprising simplicity. While we awaited the Shins’s response, everyone told us that it would be impossible and that they would never want to do it. We were a bit nervous while we imagined how we were to manage the whole thing, taking a look at the tattooed, longtime manager who grimaced when we asked to take the band for a little walk in the street. We were a bit nervous about the wait and the band’s ambiguous delay. And even when they went up to their rooms, we were left hanging, full of anticipation. They had to make a set list? For a Take Away Show?
In the end, all this apprehension was foolish. The band came down the stairs, and right from the moment when the bassist passed me the bottle of white wine he had brought for the stroll, everything seemed to unfold naturally. As we began to walk and the two guitarists had fun passing around the melodies from “Love”, James Mercer told us that they had prepared eleven songs. ELEVEN SONGS...we really only had the time for FIVE, at most. So here they are, within the efficient frame of two videos.
Rue des Trois Frères, Montmartre (Amélie Poulain’s neighborhood). Amidst the lazy agitation and creeping strollers of the neighborhood, people move through slowly, taking their time surrounded by tourists who love to look, and vendors and inhabitants who love to show. It’s in this corner of the city where improvisation comes alive in boundless measure. Accordions, Tzigane violins, and gypsy jazz feed the particular urban vibe. So why not an American pop band? And as The Shins planted themselves among a packed café terrace to play “Turn Me On”, a certain wise enthusiasm emerged. James Mercer and crew joked about the amount of small change this song could earn them on the street, which wasn’t too far-fetched of a musing. In front of the café, and later as we neared the intersection, fans emerged with excited surprise, and tourists and Parisians alike flickered with delight as the abnormal scene punctuated their Sunday with pleasant curiosity. After every song, I handed out flyers, and as everyone reached out for one I had the feeling I was promoting a band that my buddies had just started.
The crowd was relatively patient. We went into the courtyard of Mathieu and Raphaëlle’s building. Two girls watched from behind a window, trying to hide themselves, and an elderly woman opened her shutters for just enough time to decide that the music was pretty pleasant rather than bothersome. We started to go up, explaining to the two fans that we had to leave them there, and as we came out onto the apartment’s balcony we realized the crowd of fans was still hanging around the street, waiting.
In a little less than an hour, The Shins never stopped playing and never asked any questions. It wasn’t a session. It was more a sunny, leisurely afternoon, a spring debut with a group that fit right into the rhythm of the day.
This Take Away Show, with five songs naturally tied together, ended in an apartment bathed in sunlight. It was a setting that resembled The Shins and their music: simplified, joyful, and familiar, the kind that goes without saying and falls to the ears naturally. James Mercer’s songs never give off the vibe of trying to overwhelm us or start a revolution. Instead, they seem to be soluble and intuitive. While The Shins were in Paris, they enjoyed the beautiful weather and set it to music. That was everything we asked for. I’m sure you can imagine that we left with wide smiles. And without a doubt, thanks to these five guys from Portland, a handful of tourists left telling themselves that Paris is a pretty cool city.