Early in their career, The Shins appeared in the indie rock world as if looking at it from an outside perspective, performing songs that moved at odd angles and painting portraits of open-hearted melancholy with surreal lyrics and often-minimalist instrumentation. They seemed slightly out of step with the greater world, and they attracted fans who shared that perspective. Fittingly, they were a band in which singer and songwriter James Mercer stood to the side of the stage, letting the keyboardist take center – almost as if Mercer were a wallflower at his own dance.

A lot has changed in the roughly 15 years since that time. Mercer is the only band member left from those days, and he leads a larger band from the front. He still maintains a unique outlook on the world, but the low-key, wistful despondence has been mostly replaced by confident, anthemlike songs, big enough to fill venues the size of Thompson’s Point. The Shins’ appearance Friday night was soaked in a rainy evening – not nearly enough to consider postponing the gig, but enough to decapitate day-of-show sales. Still, they seemed flattered by the resilience of the crowd and played a set worthy of those who stood in two hours of steady drizzle.

Mercer has now put out five albums, and you’d have to get out a magnifying glass to find a duff song on any of them. If anything, he’s improved – his earlier songs often sound incomplete compared with the robustness of his new material. Despite the fact that they’re touring behind this year’s “Heartworms,” an album full of outsized, psychedelic-pop excursions, the band also leaned heavily on those earlier songs from “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow.” One of the pleasures of the concert was hearing the band add vibrant new colors to old songs such as “Caring is Creepy” and “Saint Simon.”

Three of the members also played violins together for “The Fear,” a slow-burning “Heartworms” waltz that showcases more of Mercer’s New Mexico background than any song he’s ever written. The band paired this number beautifully with “New Slang,” the song that helped break The Shins into wide audiences. The lyrics to “New Slang” reflect a lovely, dreamlike sketch of severe depression, but the song likely received such acclaim for its sound, in particular the wordless passages that bookend the composition and effectively convey longing, nostalgia and a gratification that forever recedes out of reach.

In concert, these older songs, which seem to sigh with the weight of the world on their shoulders, stand in contrast to newer compositions that are light on their feet, heavier on major keys, and more optimistic. One of these, “Simple Song,” closed the regular set with its reassuring message: “I told you about all of those fears, and away they did run / You sure must be strong, and feel like an ocean being warmed by the sun.” This attitude feels like the case with Mercer’s recent performances. He’s loose and comfortable in front of the audience; at the end of “Simple Song,” he even wagged his tongue playfully and executed a flying scissor kick, splashing down in an on-stage puddle.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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