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Coachella 2012: The Shins and the anatomy of heartbreak

April 22, 2012 |  6:00 am

Complete Coachella coverage
Heartbreak is the universal currency of good music, and the Shins are rich with it. The band, which has mellowed and refined itself with age (it formed in Albuquerque in 1996), can cause pangs of sadness in even the stoutest of souls.

The scene was no different on Saturday night at Coachella as the Shins played a slow but driven set tinged with sorrow and loneliness, like the sound of a train whistle or a fog horn on a rainy night at sea.

COACHELLA 2012 | Full coverage

And based on the tone of the voices singing along with the band's catalog of hits, hearts were broken across the field -- or had been, were currently being, or would be broken soon.

I once read that John Krasinski of the television show "The Office" was a huge Shins fan. And it makes sense since the band and the show both occupy a similar section of mainstream consciousness. Neither is obscure, but both are niche.

However, one is funny and the other is not. When it comes to the Shins, even its most upbeat songs are filled with unfulfilled longing. Which, of course, was more than fine on a balmy night at Coachella. Unlike last weekend, no jackets were required as bodies swayed and luxuriated in air that felt like soft bathwater.

As the Shins transitioned into the moody ballad "New Slang," singer James Mercer introduced the Watson Twins on backup vocals.

"Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall / Never should have called / But my head's to the wall and I'm lonely," sang Mercer, his spare notes swaying and dipping before finding solid ground.

When he was finished, he thanked the crowd.

"This is our first time playing Coachella," he said, before correcting himself. "Our first year."


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-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: The Shins perform during the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio on April 14. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times