The girl behind me in the second row had been crying nearly the entire set. The show was almost over, and as James Mercer sang the opening line to “New Slang,” I took a look over my shoulder. High-waisted jean shorts, a blonde top knot with a streak of purple at the base of her neck. Wing-tipped eyeliner, which was starting to glisten at the edges, and teeth that looked like the braces just came off. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.
I was sixteen the first time I heard The Shins. Lloyd Cargo, that motherfucker, he put “Young Pilgrims” on the ever-famous “California Mix.” When my father saw the jewel case casually strewn on the kitchen table, he picked up and squinted. “With love? Is that what that says?”
Later that year, I snuck into Garden State by buying a ticket for Open Water (which, it turns out, was also rated R) and I was convinced I was falling in love for the first time. When he kissed me I felt fireworks, and even though he was only the second boy to have his tongue in my mouth, I was sure it was the real thing. He burned me the Garden State soundtrack in addition to both Shins albums onto CDs that played in my 5-Disc changer on heavy rotation. He left for college a few weeks later and I started my junior year of high school in the deepest yet most delicious depression I had ever experienced. The first few notes of “Caring is Creepy” sent my face into a histrionic place of heartbreak and I reveled in the pain. To this day I have never shed so many tears over a record.
Half a year later I was “celebrating my three-month anniversary” (wasn’t high school funny?) with my boyfriend, who also gave me these so-called “fireworks.” We had tickets to see The Shins at the Electric Factory. It was April 27, 2005, and I was convinced I was going to lose it (control of my teenage emotions- not my virginity, come on now). “Pink Bullets” (acoustic) rocked my world and I bought this t-shirt, which had a bleeding heart over my own.
The first time I got drunk it was that coming August, and I was wearing that t-shirt (at Lloyd Cargo’s house- full circle, right?) I know it sounds crazy, but the beers I drank during a game of Kings completely destroyed that shirt. The fabric looked bleached in all these weird places and I eventually ended up cutting out the Shins design and sewing it onto super worn-in and perfectly fitting undershirt I found in a drawer at my great aunt and uncle’s.
A year later I left for college. A few weeks after I was dropped off at Penn State, my brother Michael texted me. “Mom cries every time she listens to that Shins song you love.” I had left some of my CDs in the car. “Kissing the Lipless” was the opening track on “Chutes Too Narrow,” and it was bringing my mother emotional turmoil about me growing up and getting older. If you only knew, ma. If you only knew.
I didn’t listen to the Shins very much after that. “Wincing the Night Away” came out my freshman year, and I thought it totally sucked. I hated that the Shins changed after I was the one who went away to college and wasn’t changing at all (at least, I didn’t think I was changing- wasn’t college funny?) My mom still listened to CDs I had left behind in the family Expedition, but I barely touched my MP3s at school.
At the Tower Theater last Thursday night, I was front row and center thanks to my friend Caroline. I had been listening to the Shins latest release, “Port of Morrow,” after being offered a ticket to the concert, and I was enjoying it very much. Most of the concert was spent sitting down, as there’s really no reason to stand up when you’re eye-to-eye with the band. But when “Kissing the Lipless” started booming from the speakers that were right in front of my face, I jumped up and started singing. Though I know the song is really about sex and breakups, I like to think of it as a homecoming song. “Called to see/if you’re back…” When it came to a close, James Mercer looked at me, and then the keyboardist. “That was a good one, that was a good one,” he said quietly. I had been smiling the entire set. A band that used to bring me to tears at the drop of a hat brought me only a look of sheer joy that night. As the lights came up after “One by One All Day” and people started collecting their things to leave, Caroline grabbed the setlist and I looked behind me once more.
“I have to know,” I asked the long-haired girl standing next to the blubbering top knot. “How old are you guys?”
“I’m 22,” she said, “but this concert is my sister’s 15th birthday present.”
“Perfect,” I said, nodding. “That’s perfect.”