While the 2012 Coachella Festival roared just a short distance away across the California desert, James Mercer, lead singer and guitarist for The Shins, served up a quiet, intimate and emotional acoustic set at KROC’s Coachella House.
The brief, one man show wouldn’t have worked well out on the Coachella main stage while tens of thousands of partying music fans filled the countryside. Taking stage armed only with his acoustic guitar, a stool and a microphone, Mercer crooned out a very personal selection of pained love songs written for The Shins’ new album, Port of Morrow.
The casual party mood at the Coachella House was tailor made for such a performance as the assemble crowd of a couple hundred exclusive guests lounged on yard chairs and blankets while Mercer poured his heart out.
Before taking the stage, Mercer did a press interview in front of the fans – explaining what he’s been up to in the layoff since The Shins’ previous album, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away.
“I did all kinds of strange things. I played with a band called Broken Bells with Danger Mouse,” Mercer said. “And I had kids.”
“I also acted in a friend’s movie. Matt McCormick directed it. It’s called Somedays Are Better Than Others and is available now on DVD. I played this loser guy who was basically me before I had the Shins break. I didn’t have to act much. It was kind of my life. Shopping in thrift shops and having odd jobs and not eating. That was me.”
Now that Mercer has The Shins’ success under his belt, he’s moved on from starving artist to aspiring chef specializing in shell fish, evidently.
“What I can actually cook well is an Italian mussel dish. I’ll cook anyone mussels. The secret thing about mussels is that they’re really easy. You put them in something hot until they open and they’re done.”
After hearing Mercer’s acoustic set, you might say the same about him. You put his heart through something painful until it opens up with new songs, and you have a great off-Coachella show.
Photo: John Scott Lewinski