The lead singer, Nicholas Thorburn, struts on stage with a confidence that may have come from the shine of his outfit – from the bright blue and yellow jacket down to his glossy white vinyl shoes. Islands are a four piece indie rock band from Montreal, now based in LA who played a show in Allston this Tuesday.
I always look at how the band interacts with the audience because, after all, that’s one of the main ways a live performance differs from a recording. I’m still unsure how to categorize Islands – at times, they were in their own world, keyboardist simply bobbing his head, with a strange seriousness and stiffness that didn’t seem appropriate in an intimate and small venue like Great Scott. As someone who isn’t super familiar with all five of Islands’ extensive albums, it was hard to keep up as the band jumped from song to song, rarely making intros; although it seemed like a lot of the crowd recognized the tunes.
Then again, when the microphone stand was failing to hold up the mic and Thorburn made a suggestive joke – “Don’t worry ladies, I usually don’t have troubles keeping this erect” – or when he stepped down from the stage to join the young group enthusiastically dancing to their music, you could tell the effort to interact with the audience was there. But these exchanges came and went. At one point, after starting a song Thorburn suddenly cuts off his band and the driving drumbeat, synth and guitar trailed away uncertainly. He says something about being in the wrong key and before starting up again he says to the audience, “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t shit talk.”
This was my first time hearing Islands live, and though there were hints of Thorburn’s distinguishable voice, he didn’t quite deliver the same clear sound that pulled me to the band in the first place. It could have been the sound system or technology, or perhaps it was just a result of a band’s evolution, but their characteristic sound seemed to have a weaker presence than I had expected.
They wrapped up their set with “Swans (Life After Death)”, saying “We’re gonna take you on a journey to the far reaches of the moon,” delivering an intense final jam. The audience clapped and shouted for the band to return for their encore, which they held out pretty long for. Finally, they came back on stage, appropriately playing “Switched On,” singing “You belong in the city” to their Boston audience.