Live: Grinding Gears. The Shins, HMV Forum.

As the hypnotic thrum of Clinic emanates from the far end of the theatre, their whereabouts initially appears puzzling. Heads of mouth agape aim off in every direction barring that of the stage, spewing inanity as they swivel. Perhaps the entrancing drones and dulcet tones of the Merseyside four-piece, dressed down in signature mutilated health care worker garb (scrubs and surgical masks as standard) are all too conducive to apathy yet such dispassionate indifference is fucking unreal.

The reality is that James Mercer's glorified solo project that is The Shins, now tied up to a major, are the sort of band to, within a contemporary context, have touts twittering anxious jitters before and flogging knockoff apparel off the filthy streets of Kentish Town after. It's the bona fide Bon Iver effect, and it sinks leadenly in a stomach still aflutter with butterflies. Although irrespective of Mercer's warranted promotion to the main stages and metropolitan monoliths, The Shins remain a band of the people and in rolled-up sleeves and with a faint wisp of beard girding the orifice from which that unexampled brogue splurges forth, our man's looking poised, if ever-equanimous. Kissing the Lipless brings the night to life, and the wings of those butterflies begin to flitter ceaselessly.

The spaced-out swoon of Mine's Not A High Horse, the campfire croon to New Slang, or an unforeseeably vehement careen through One by One All Day all endear with rejuvenated verve and indeed, Caring is Creepy is barely contained within this vast space, every mouth finally harmonised in uproarious singsong to bring about a great state of unity. There's even a point during the slanted pop stylings of So Says I at which, as all in attendance yodel that post-chorus part, Mercer turns to newly congregated band as if to elucidate the self-explanatory joys of clattering through the back catalogue. Actions evidently speak louder than words and yet those surrealist stories of yore here told remain supreme.

However tonight is and always would be about material docked in Mercer's Port of Morrow and, although standouts 40 Mark Strasse and For A Fool are foregone, the night rinses rather than winces the record as it belatedly creaks into life. The show itself does so to the jaunty tune of Australia that's reproduced with the finest of exactitude – especially considering all band reconfigurations and an inter-LP lapse of half a decade – yet the lumberjack (if slightly lumbering) pop of Simple Song is, similarly, worthily heralded as well-sprung springtime hymnal, Richard Swift's keys cascading like felled forest. The exuberance of Bait And Switch is adeptly manipulated into a swing as sixties as a Townshend windmill and inordinate admiration must be accredited to the backing band Mercer has here accumulated: as the first show of current European endeavours, they lack a little cohesion at times as Jessica Dobson impulsively clogs up every silence with improvisational interjections sent bounding from Jazzmaster strings. However her guitars unearth a hitherto hidden rocky crunch whilst Joe Plummer's succinct rhythmic work crisply perforates the innumerable boulders of bent string.

Furthermore the band attentively, enchantingly monitor Mercer's every move, manoeuvre and, intermittently, rockstar posture as though he were heaving instructional tablets in place of toting an array of Gibsons. For Mercer is far from conventional focal point: shy, retiring, reticent (not that it hindered him from pink-slipping all previous compadres); nattering onstage comes at a far higher premium than it evidently may off of it. He does take time to bemoan erstwhile inabilities to sniff out aromatic, apparition-inducing shrubbery whilst completing "high school" down in Suffolk yet this revelation of a partially British upbringing has had a markedly minimal bearing on Mercer. Indeed, with lines of acclimatising to the nauseating sensation of getting "dust in your lungs" (No Way Down another Port of Morrow moment to come into its irresistible own tonight, transmogrified into hunky funk number with bloody cowbells on) he's considerably, if highly conceivably more acutely aligned with his New Mexican associations. Brushed down and belted out sumptuously is Phantom Limb which is almost studiously preceded by a perfectionist's take on Pam Berry while giddying climax comes from Sleeping Lessons, in itself reconstituted in the defiant punk anthem it never even so much as browbeat to become.

It's an impromptu, unscripted rendition of September however, prompted by an insistent front row few that truly fiddles them heartstrings like Machiavellian puppeteer. An acoustic dawdle initiated by Mercer alone with a weathered, immaculately crafted slab of wood he reveals it was written for his wife: "You gotta write a song about your wife, you know?" The tone of his voice then lowers dramatically as if tracing some abandoned Miranda July script as he deferentially avows under muttered breath: "She's great." The track ergo perfumed with a sentimental poignancy it, along with Port of Morrow, now feels contextualised and with that irrevocably enhanced. Come on ring those bells for our most revered of rectors hath returned.