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Live Review and Photos: Islands, February 14, 2012, Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA




Photos by Philip Cosores

Islands’ new album, A Sleep & A Forgetting, is quite a transformation in sound. For the most part the songs are downbeat and piano-led, unlike the big chugging guitars of their previous albums. It’s such a change that even the band themselves don’t seem to know what to do with it; it seems for this tour they’ve opted to play intimately seated venues, with the Bootleg Theater on this occasion housing spectators both in standard tiered seating at the back and more people sitting at café-style tables on the floor of the venue. This being both the day of release of the album and the first night of the tour, nobody quite knew what to expect, and some adjustments had to be made as the night went on.

But before all that was opening act Idiot Glee, a one-man bedroom project of James Friley from Lexington, Kentucky. He admitted that he’d driven all the way to Los Angeles for this show, a fact which may tell you a little something about how committed he is to his music, or perhaps more about how it seems to be working out for him – but with the support slot for Islands booked for their whole tour that could change. Friley admitted that he wasn’t used to playing to a seated audience, but his music may benefit from being consumed in this manner; ghostly atmospherics and electronic drones shroud his booming unintelligible vocals, instantly enhancing the pallor of any room, making it seem a little spectral. Sometimes Idiot Glee’s music incorporated some slightly brighter melodies, but still buried deep within the gloom of the surrounding frequencies, creating music that ghosts might consider pop, or at least I’d like to think so. Idiot Glee’s music is certainly interesting, and not the kind that you can fully grasp on a cursory listen. On the one hand that doesn’t sound good because most of the people seeing his performances on this tour will instantly dismiss it, but on the other we can hope that there are enough people out there who are intrigued enough to go pick up his record at the merch table after the show.

By the time Islands took to the stage all of the seats had been filled and now both flanks of the room were filling up with people who had arrived late, creating a strange divide in the audience. The band started slowly with A Sleep & A Forgetting’s lead single “This Is Not A Song,” which found band leader Nick Thorburn off to the side behind a piano. It wasn’t until the third song, “In A Dream (It Seemed Real)” that he came to center stage to take up his guitar, and the crowd showed their appreciation. Following “Lonely Love,” Islands showed that they’re not afraid to make a spectacle of their show, with Thorburn announcing “this is what we used to sound like” before launching into “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone” from their debut album Return To The Sea, with Thorburn swinging around as he played the bombastic bassline, before the song was capped off by having local rappers Busdriver and Subtitle come onstage to reprise their roles from the recorded version – a jaw dropping moment that completely changed the momentum of the night. Following this up smartly with “Creeper,” Islands solidified a livelier atmosphere in the crowd (although most people were still sitting).

Clearly more relaxed into their performance, Islands took the indulgence of playing a brand new b-side, which the crowd appreciated, but it was the familiar opening notes of “Swans (Life After Death)” that got people shrieking with joy. Following the epic song’s conclusion, Thorburn bade the crowd to come and stand in front of the stage, as they were clearly itching to do. Not only were they standing, but with the triple header of “Switching On,” “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” and “Can’t Feel My Face” to end the set, they were moving too, with Thorburn really getting into the swing of things in the last song, dancing around like crazed lounge singer.

Unsurprisingly Islands were called back for an encore, however they delivered a song that probably nobody wanted or expected, opting to play their rendition of “Grey Funnel Line”; a famous old sea shanty that they’ve also recorded for their newest album. The song found Thorburn singing acappella to begin with, before being joined by bass, but the song never picked up; instead Islands brought the show to a graceful close, bringing down the energy of the evening to the level of the start, bringing the show full circle.

It may not have been the ending people thought they wanted, but Islands have never really been a band who do what people want – dating right back to the fact that nobody wanted The Unicorns to break up – but, as always, Islands proved that it is what you wanted, even if you didn’t know it.


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