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Islands at The Music Gallery

Islands at The Music Gallery
The Music Gallery
February 28, 2012

Review by: Tyler Crick
Photos by: Pete Nema

Nick Thorburn has been a musician of considerable diversity.


When The Unicorns broke up, their fans mourned the loss of one of those rare, quirky rock bands that forced them to dance. With surreal lyrics and a live show that often saw the crowd dancing on stage alongside the band, Thorburn established himself as energetic and unique. Looking back, it's no surprise that he and Jamie Thompson went on to form the so-called "indie hip-hop" band Th' Corn Gangg to further explore their groove. It's also no surprise that they formed Islands shortly after, effectively creating a channel for a more mature, laid back sound. Their recent show at The Music Gallery on February 28th really showcased such a progression.

The scene at St. George the Martyr Church was at first a little off-putting, based mainly on the historical precedent set by Thorburn’s previous energetic, haphazard live performances. Most of the crowd was seated in the pews in the middle of the room, filling the central space, while standing audience members were marginalized to the sidelines and the back of the room. But this gave Islands a chance to show how multifaceted their sound is, as their set seemed to adapt smoothly to this setting. Aside from the front-man, the crew has had a revolving door style member list since they began in 2005, and on this night their members sported sharp suits and played with precision. Yet also on stage was a sole prop – a Yorick-like glowing skull – almost as if to pose the question of whether the Jester was dead but still present.

During "Cold Again", a track from their new album A Sleep and A Forgetting, Thorburn sang in a relaxed and soft tone, without any of the charmingly nasal qualities he has often been noted for. For their part, the rest of the band played relatively chill music, leading easily into some twang on "No Crying", and soon into genuine crooning with a piano duet. All the while, the sideline audience danced tenaciously, while the central crowd showed their appreciation by singing along and often clapping along. Also from the new album, "Oh Maria" started off quietly, with Thorburn hitting a high register, and then finally expanding into a brief choral swell and drum build. This build seemed to lead into the loudest audience reception, as the band launched an early fan favourite "Swans," which energized Thorburn in turn, moving him around the stage. The heavyish breakdown near the end only showcased their versatility more, in contrast to the more rustic sounds earlier in their set.

"Swans" marked an energetic turning point in the evening, as Islands rolled out the Beach Boys-flavoured "Don't Call me Whitney, Bobby" and surf rock of "Can't Feel My Face" to close out the regulation time. It wasn't until the encore that one enterprising member of the audience stood up and encouraged the seated audience to stand up and get moving. There was a bit of irony in this, as Islands started their encore with a slow yet beautiful and moving number. But in the end, Islands delivered the disjointed yet melodic upbeat pace their fans have come to know them for, closing with "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone"

Whether the venue dictated the vibe or not, it seems clear that Islands have found themselves with two differently appreciative fanbases, as so many maturing bands have before them.

Info: Islands
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Video: Hallways

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