The Shins at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Sunday (April 17). $21. 416-869-0789. Rating: NNNNN
While many indie rock artists are still complaining about the lack of airplay they get on commercial radio, the Shins have followed the lead of hiphop and electronic acts straight to film soundtracks and television commercials as a way of increasing their exposure.
But they've moved beyond providing light ambience for a crucial scene in Wicker Park or the soundtrack to which fresh-scrubbed Gap models in khakis strut. Performing a song on Gilmore Girls was a step up, but the real breakthrough happened in the film Garden State.
At a key moment in the plot's development, Natalie Portman's character, Sam, hands her headphones to love interest Large (Zach Braff) and smiles, "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life - I promise you," cueing the Shins sweetly melodic New Slang.
Certainly, that one scene changed the lives of the band members, as sales of 2001's mediocre-performing Oh, Inverted World (Sub Pop) suddenly went through the roof. It's probably the best sort of product placement a band could hope for. They didn't need to write and record a new song for the film, and it didn't cost them a cent.
"Apparently, Zach Braff was a fan of our music," explains singer/songwriter James Mercer over the phone from Billings, Montana. "Finding out that a celebrity was interested in what we did and actually liked it enough to put it in a movie was awesome for us.
"Sitting in a theatre with a couple hundred people and watching the scene where our song starts playing was an interesting experience. You immediately think of how far you've come as a band and how things might change. It was a huge moment."
And exactly how have things changed for the Shins post-Garden State? Well, no personal stylists or fur-lined sinks have been seen so far, but that van they used to tour around in is now a big shiny new bus. Their shows have gotten bigger, and the audience demographic has changed significantly.
"Yeah, that movie introduced us to a much younger crowd. Our niche used to be college kids and some older music geeks, but now it's Natalie Portman fans."
And, of course, fans of kooky cartoon idol SpongeBob SquarePants old enough to walk are also interested in checking out the Shins, since they contributed a track to the hugely popular SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.
While the Shins remain strong advocates of film and television licensing, they've become wary of the problems of oversaturation.
"I can't relate to any political reason for a band not to allow their music to be licensed for films. But as a fan, I can totally understand why some people might be annoyed by it.
"We're thinking it's time we used a little more restraint in how our songs are used. We'd like to know that people are hearing our music through picking up our discs, downloading it or listening to someone else's copy of one of our albums.
"It sort of bothers me that we now tend to get the sort of guys coming to our shows who would've kicked my ass in high school," sighs Mercer. "But with all the exposure we've been getting, I can't really complain."