Nick Thorburn (vocals, guitar) from Islands has been known for exceptionally warm and interactive shows, but he put on a mostly uninspired performance at The Mod Club on July 14th, only partially saved by some glimmers of passion late in the set.
Islands has produced three full-length albums, two of which, Return To The Sea and Arm's Way, have found a spot in my top 10 lists of the year for 2006 and 2008, respectively. Islands most recent effort, Vapours, hasn't impacted me in quite the same way, but overall it is still a very decent album that I've listened to more than a few times.
What was previously a six-piece band of happy musicians lead by a charismatic and interactive Thorburn, as I saw back in 2006, has now been reduced to four-piece outfit. That decrease accounts for some of the noticeable loss in instrumentation, such as the missing bass clarinet and violins that previously accompanied the band, but it doesn't really account for the evident loss of the warm, emotional expression that Thorburn had once so elegantly displayed toward the audience.
And although not overly packed, The Mod Club was filled enough with fans, both old and new, that would have been willing recipients of the emotional connection Thorburn has been know to achieve. Lovers of Islands' music sang loudly along to the wide selection of earlier material included in the set, such as "Rough Gem" and "Swans (Life After Death)", among many others. Songs from the more recent Vapours weren't met with the same level of awareness, but there were always some people in the crowd that were clearly excited about the new material as well. There was a point late in the set where Thorburn displayed a flash of passion, and then stepped up on the monitor speakers to connect with the crowd. The moment didn't last long, though, and the concert ended more or less as it had begun.
Not everyone saw the concert as I did. As I was leaving, I spoke with a group of friends who had just seen the band for the first time, and a couple of them loved the music and show. Without past experience, there wouldn't be any reason to be overly critical of this performance... Islands performed great music at a level that many bands would be happy to be able to achieve, but it just didn't attain the same level of band-to-fan connection that I've witnessed in the past. I'm actually concerned that perhaps Thorburn has something happening in his life that is impacting his performances, and whatever it is, whatever has changed, I hope it gets sorted out. I love the music and listen to it regularly, and I'm still looking forward to a similar experience in the future like I had with Islands in the past.