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Islands: Beyond Band Class

Posted by Olivier / February 18, 2008

Saturday night I watched two Asian violinists perform in matching white ties over black shirts, but I was not at the Montreal Symphony, nor a high school band practice. I was in fact at a rock show, and, like the rest of the members of their band Islands, violinists Sebastian Chow and Alex Chow were rocking pretty hard.

Islands are local favourites in the indie scene dating back to their previous incarnation as The Unicorns, though in the past the hype around them has often surpassed the goods. When I watched them perform at Pop Montreal last fall, I couldn’t help but feel that the band was accustomed to being propped up by the Montreal university students who made up it’s fanbase, and that perhaps the act was wearing thin. No fatal knock, however: I’ve heard McGill alum say that in the early 2000’s students even got tired of the Arcade Fire after hearing them play too often.

But a pleasant surprise on Saturday night at Club Lambi: the band has grown enormously since that appearance last September. Performing parts of their new album Arm’s Way before heading off to tour in Europe and the US, the band was in fine form, effortlessly blending genres and demonstrating their considerable musical creativity. Lead singer Nick Thorburn’s no-nonsense vocals tie the whole thing together, and his painted white face luckily did little to affect his performance, and maybe even gave him that elusive “I’m a crazy mofo” edge that musicians are always looking for.

The show wasn’t perfect though. It was hard to put your finger on it, but there’s still something missing before these guys put on truly epic performances. While they have definitely made large strides, given their obvious musical talent there still seems to be ample room for them to one day give the shivers-down-your-spine performances of an Arcade Fire.

To be fair, a failure to reach that stratosphere of performance on Saturday might be blamed in part on the lackluster audience, who couldn’t even bring themselves to move, let alone dance, despite Islands’ eminently danceable pop sound. At one point, I noticed a particularly statuesque concertgoer standing next to me, his only reaction being an occasional jotting of notes in a book. I asked him if he was a fellow reviewer. He said yes. I paused for a second as I tried to understand how someone who I assume is a music fan could exhibit so little emotion. Then it hit me. “Where are you from?”, I asked. “Toronto”, he replied. He then returned to his notebook, and I, to my beer and dancing.



G / February 18, 2008 at 10:47 pm
I think the Islands are awesome regardless of what you think.

Sweet pic btw...
E.L. / February 21, 2008 at 03:07 am
Olivier, I didn't realize my statuesque concertgoing was so memorable. To be honest I actually did like the show quite a lot.

Also, I am from Montreal, I was just working for a Toronto-based publication. For obvious reasons I wanted to assure you I'm not from Toronto. And the notebook was a partially successful attempt to get the setlist down for an article.
Olivier / February 21, 2008 at 03:25 am
Hey Erik,

Thanks for the clarification. I just heard "Toronto", and everything seemed to make sense. Maybe you were an innocent bystander? Although I still maintain that you were doing a lot of statuesque standing.

I actually read your review, and if anyone wants to read what a real review from someone who wasn't drunk and was actually taking notes sounds like, check it out:
E.L. / February 21, 2008 at 03:37 am
No, that was definitely me - I remember speaking to you. If you see me dancing (which does happen), then you know it's a killer show.

I do agree with you that the crowd seemed a bit out of it. It's likely because of the new material, even though I think fans will warm to the album when it comes out.

Thanks for reading my review.

Tom / July 23, 2008 at 06:12 pm
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