The Shins play Red Rocks for the 21st anniversary of “Oh, Inverted World”


When The Shins leader James Mercer decided he wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his band’s seminal album, “Oh, Inverted World,” he did so with plenty of notice.

“I had brought it up with (record label) Sub Pop on the 10th anniversary, because I really wanted to remaster the record,” said Mercer, 51, via phone from his Portland, Ore., home. “We just never got around to it, so as we approached the 20th anniversary I started poking them even earlier — like on the 18th anniversary.”

The Shins leader James Mercer. (Marisa Kula Mercer, provided by Nasty Little Man)
The Shins leader James Mercer. (Marisa Kula Mercer, provided by Nasty Little Man)

Mercer desperately wanted to boost the album’s “base-level” sound, having noticed a relative quiet next to other songs on the radio, such as The Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” He may have been dissatisfied with the homespun feel of the record, compressed and lo-fi as it sounds in hindsight, but at the time music fans and critics were electrified.

The bubblegum melodies and earnest, vulnerable performances on “Oh, Inverted World” sent the band on national tours and spawned the massive single “New Slang,” best known as the favorite song of Natalie Portman’s character in the 2004 rom-com “Garden State” (see Portman slipping her headphones over Zach Braff’s ears, thus “changing his life”).

The Shins, with Mercer’s singing and songwriting at the core, released four more albums of varying import since then. But there’s no recapturing the moment when the then-Albuquerque-based act went from unknowns to indie darlings. To celebrate, Mercer and The Shins are touring the album nationally for what’s now its 21st birthday — delayed until now, of course, by the pandemic — including a Tuesday, July 26, stop at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Tickets for the “21st Birthday Show,” which are still available, are $49.50-$85 via

The songs will appear in their more muscular versions in concert, as they have over the years while the band’s climbed up from venues such as the 550-capacity Bluebird Theater to the 3,900-capacity Fillmore Auditorium. Mercer’s high, vulnerable vocals and earworm melodies have also flowered in Broken Bells, a project he formed with producer Danger Mouse.

A popular, acclaimed and live-touring band in its own right, Broken Bells has offered a more sampled, studio-borne side of Mercer’s creativity since its 2010 debut. Broken Bells also released its latest single last month to herald new album “Into the Blue,” with a release date yet to be determined. That may seem like a lot of activity for one summer, possibly too much, but Mercer is thoughtful about each project, taking it on a song-by-songwriting basis.

“What happens is that each song wants to be something else, so I just work hard to build it into its fullest state,” he said. “I haven’t noticed a change in my vocal technique or anything, it just changes every time a new song comes along.”

As with many musicians who wish they could go back and do their debut albums all over again, it’s not about songwriting, but production. Mercer said he’s learned so much since then and, for the last eight years, has been recording his own music in his barn studio.

The album cover for The Shins'
The album cover for The Shins’ “Oh Inverted World.” (Sub Pop)


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