"You guys had a lot of flavors to choose from tonight thanks for choosing the Shins, which I think is sort of a butterscotch," quipped a bearded Marty Crandall, keyboard and guitarist of the Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque quartet, as the band performed before a sold-out audience Saturday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
The Shins' set -- which included an almost punk-y mix of oldies like "Know Your Onion!" and "So Says I," modern classics "Kissing the Lipless" and "New Slang," and newbies "Turn on Me" and "Phantom Limb" -- capped off the evening's seven-band lineup as part of KCRW's annual Sounds Eclectic Evening, a benefit concert for the L.A. public radio station. In addition to the Shins, who played with a newfound confidence, possibly the result of their most impressive record sales to date -- the night's diverse set-list included local trip-hoppers Bitter:Sweet, noveau funk group Breakestra, Orange County It band Cold War Kids, delightfully crass U.K. pop princess Lily Allen, and a surprise performance by Brit-rockers Travis.
But the show's true breakout act was the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, whose blend of heavy metal filtered through traditional Spanish guitar received standing ovations after every song. "We play crazy music, as you can see we love metal — trash metal," Gabriela Quintero told the crowd mid-set, going on to play several cuts off their 2006 self-titled LP -- including "Ixtapa" -- and a soulful Flamenco-style rendition of "Stairway to Heaven." At the merch table, the duo's modest stock of CDs sold out about three minutes after their set's end.
They were an indisputably hard act to follow "We were standing backstage, shaking our heads saying "No, no, no. There's no way we can follow that," Travis frontman Fran Healy told us at the show's after party. "The thing is, you don't get that these days. The Mexicans, they're much more raw than we are." Cold War Kids singer Nathan Willet echoed Healy's sentiment: "That was insane," he told us. "I love Spanish guitar, but those guys are on a different level."
Speaking of CWK, the night marked the Cali indie darlings' largest show to date, and while guitarist/vocalist Jonnie Russell (who had just woken up from a nap) seemed a little groggy backstage before the set, the band certainly appeared alert and un-phased by the 6,000-strong audience of middle-aged couples and 20-something hipsters (which included Will Ferrell and Entourage's Adrian Grenier). Willet gave an especially forceful performance, staggering across the stage and nearly colliding with his band mates amid the swagger of songs like "We Used to Vacation" and "Hang Me Up to Dry." After their set, the singer admitted he was star-struck by Ferrell's presence in the front row. "That'll stay in my heart," he told us.
Travis's surprise appearance received a mixed reception from the audience. The Scots' first U.S. performance in three years was a stripped down set -- only a snare and a kick drum for percussion -- which included some of their biggest hits ("Driftwood" and "Turn") as well as tracks from their forthcoming release, The Boy With No Name due out in May. "[KCRW music director Nic Harcourt] is a good friend of ours so we flew in just to do it," said Healy. "But we thought it would only be for like 100 people."
In the past few years the Sounds Eclectic Evening has hosted notables like Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Harper, Franz Ferdinand and once even Beck on a surprise duet with the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on Sonny and Cher's "I've Got You Babe." Though each act on this year's bill was excellent -- with a predictably excellent set by UK pop sensation Lily Allen -- the lineup failed to match the star power the event has boasted in years past. The night was far from a flop, but it certainly didn't live up to its own tradition.