Las Vegas has changed in a lot of ways over the years, and some of them have dimmed people’s adoration for the city that’s been described before as “America’s Playground.”
In part, this is just because a trip to Vegas has become something of a cliché. But that’s not to say it’s out of fashion by any means. In fact, the city saw record tourism just last year, which could indicate it’s more popular than ever. There’s also an argument to be made that movies like The Hangover that mock the absurdity of the ideal Vegas vacation can have an impact. Vegas seems more silly than serious these days.
There’s also the fact that one of the city’s biggest draws—the casino gaming—has developed anew as an online industry with incredible sophistication. Some people even enjoy games more online than in a real life casino. Poker tournaments are constantly available with all kinds of different variations. And slot games designed by digital developers come in an incredibly diverse selection. It’s no wonder a lot of people would rather game online than in a Vegas lobby.
Even with all these drawbacks, Vegas remains elite in the respect that it’s about as interesting a city for concert performances as you can find in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. Contrary to what some might believe, it’s not just a home base for the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. In fact, Vegas attracts all kinds of acts stretching across different genres. And this past weekend, there was a rare dose of Americana that might just put another group back on some people's radar.
This time around it was The Shins, playing alongside the likes of Queen and Mumford & Sons at The Chelsea in The Cosmopolitan resort. Queen and Mumford & Sons were the headliners, and even those two lend a different feel to a Vegas show than the pure pop scene some might expect. Queen plays classics, and Mumford & Sons have a folksy brand of rock that’s uniquely their own. The Shins were the surprise, playing music from their new album “Heartworms” that features “Americana undertones in places” in something of a departure from their typical indie-pop roots.
The Shins have always had a folk aspect to their style of indie rock, and it can be difficult to peg them in a particular genre. But the show in Vegas was one of the biggest showcases yet of some of their newer material, and “Heartworms”—released in January—is a triumph for fans of all different genres. Critics praised the album as mature, bold, and in some cases as possibly the best release we’ve seen yet from the band.
Reading into the process behind the album through an interview with front man James Mercer, it’s easy to understand where all the different inspirations for “Heartworms” came from. Mercer discussed factors like members of the band being proficient at string instruments, and how they decided to incorporate those talents more with the new material. He also spoke about some childhood nostalgia, specifically brought out by the '80s atmosphere of the Netflix show Stranger Things. It’s an interesting read, and one that makes the folksier sound of “Heartworms” easier to understand.
We don’t often look to Vegas or established indie-pop groups for folk music and Americana these days. But this recent show put “Heartworms” at the forefront of the Vegas experience and it's a record for both old and new fans to give a listen to.