Islands La Sala Rossa, Montreal QC, March 13
Published Mar 14, 2014Joined by Evan and Geordie Gordon, each with a guitar and keyboard, and drummer Adam Halferty, Islands founder Nick Thorburn quickly kicked things off at La Sala Rossa with swooning Vapours opener "Switched On," from 2009, before powering through a trio of songs from 2013 LP Ski Mask. The new record's tunes, which comprised roughly half the set, featured more key and synth work than earlier string-driven records, and Thorburn and the Gordon brothers seamlessly rotated through a roster of keys and guitars to execute these varied arrangements, effortlessly pushing through one song to the next.
While the new record was undeniably the set's focal point, special attention was paid to the project's debut record, Return to the Sea, recorded in Montreal nearly a decade ago and released in 2006. "Volcanoes" progressed from a calypso-tinged number to a full-blown rocker, immersing the audience in riffs. Sinister shuffler "Where There's a Will, There's a Whalebone" has long-since been deprived of its rap breakdown live, but the quartet kept the instrumental portion as tight and intense as it is on the record.
The band ended the main set with the groovy "Can't Feel My Face" from 2012's A Sleep and a Forgetting as Thorburn moonwalked across the stage and into the crowd for a bopping finale. Taking the stage for a two-song encore, the band started things off with the ragtimey "Nil" from Ski Mask, but this was just a prelude to the epic finale: "Swans (Life After Death)," the nine-minute opener from Return to the Sea.
Despite being the absolute beginning to the entire Islands catalogue, featuring a melody and strong lyrical allusions to the Unicorns following the band's 2004 implosion, it provided a fitting finale to the show, building up from a guitar-noodled beginning with synths, drums and Evan Gordon's smooth bassline as Thorburn's distinct vocals increased in volume from hushed tones to a clear, piercing level. The euphoric instrumental breakdown, followed by a nice denouement, ended the set on a high note.
Overall, the set was solid, but the newer material failed to capture the grandeur and intensity of the earlier tunes, with the exception of Ski Mask's self-titled song and live set standout "Becoming the Gunship," which provided a nice unifying moment with band and audience members alike shouting out the triumphant chorus of "run away, cannonball!" Ultimately, the quartet is capable of doling out a variety of song styles without getting stale and performing them with style and gusto for a pleasant evening.
And for those of you eagerly awaiting information about that Unicorns reunion, don't hold your breath. Thorburn answered one fan's shrill-voiced plea for more information by snidely dodging the question and insulting his yelped delivery. Thorburn may never escape the shadow of his old band, but five albums later, Islands can definitely support itself on its own, like the independent land mass from which it takes its name.