Concert Review: The Shills at Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA
Reviewed by: Dorise Gruber
At The Shills’ EP release show this week, an early-20s girl with headband askew saw me scribbling in my notepad and stopped dancing for just long enough to ask, “Are you writing a review?” When I affirmed, she met my eyes and solemnly dictated, “Say they’re the best.” I was caught a bit off-guard by how serious she was with this request, but I think it speaks to the passion of this band’s fan-base – The Shills are a Boston institution. With members of seemingly half of Boston’s local bands present at their show, too, it was clear they are revered not only by the city at large, but also by the folks who make local music matter.
According to my brief chat with the band’s newest addition and red-pant wearer, Ryan Jackson (guitarist), James Zaner (drummer) and Dave Sicilian (bassist) were high school friends who formed a band about eight years ago, and when replacing their original singer found Bryan Murphy (singer/guitarist) to form The Shills. Finding a singer like Bryan on craigslist is like finding a brand new 50” flat screen TV lying on the curb – while the instrumentation is tight and creative across the board, it is Bryan’s distinctive vocals and on-stage charisma that really establish The Shills as one of Boston’s top bands. His “All About My Vagina” tee doesn’t hurt his on-stage persona, either.
If there’s a scale that exists between The Temper Trap and At The Drive-In, the Shills probably fall somewhere on it. Progressive, soulful, anthemic rock, The Shills balance tender rock ballads with more standard rock-induced wailing, tussling with tempo and complicated guitar picking. They began their set with their already-published material, with songs like “That’s Why We Dream,” whose guitar riff reminded me a lot of Green Day’s “Do You Know Your Enemy,” a finger slide and handclaps on “Oh This Devilish Place,” and more leaden bass in “Bending Knee” and “C’mere Boy.”
When they moved into the new EP material, though, that was when the show especially came together for me. “Honest Answers” made especially good use of vocal harmonies, but didn’t shy away from more intense between-vocal spasms. They kept it sensitive with “Nectar Perfect,” but the crowd went the craziest when they broke out “Object Through Object.” With the floor covered in white-boy bounce-dancing, the frenetic guitar and storytelling vocals coated turbulent drums and bass, cutting out every so often to let the song breathe and make the vocals even more salient. They snuck in an older funk-rock track, “Thing,” before rounding out their EP portion of the set with “Move a Mountain.” This was a great choice to end on, since it started with an innocent drum march in Proclaimers’-esque cadence, but slow-built to an epic show finale. With ample applause, The Shills came out for a one-song encore, “For All That Moves,” and with poppy guitar, jovial beat, and compelling vocal, it was a resounding close to the night.
Keep Your Hands Busy: Vol 1 is the fourth and latest album by The Shills, and Bryan assured us on stage that this means a Volume 2 is on its way. Though only a four-song EP, the Volume 1 mini-production leaves a big imprint – I’m already anxiously awaiting the sequel!