Islands at the Black Cat, Washington, DC, May 22nd


I had always wanted to see Islands live after hearing their brilliant 2006 debut “Return to Sea.” They seemed exciting and powerful on record, and I imagined an amazing show. After seeing them perform, I can say that at least the music was. Each member is highly skilled, and I was especially enamored by the two Asian dudes on strings and percussions, emphatic in their movements and always cheerful. This cannot be said for their downer of a front man Nicholas Thorburn. He is a great and enthusiastic musician, but as soon as he puts his mouth to the mic to do anything besides sing, he sucks any joy out of the room. Statements like “You all will like this song, but I don’t,” when introducing one of the only fan favorites to be played, “Don’t call me Whitney, Bobby”, are discouraging to say the least. All of the songs, however, were impeccably performed. Most notably, “The Arm” off of their new album “In Arm’s Way,” released only two days before the show, a subject which the gloomy Thorburn thought he would comment on, saying something to the effect of “It was a hard process and we couldn’t be happy about it.” I initially believed he had said, “we couldn’t be happier about it,” but my friend thought he heard different, and to be honest it wouldn’t surprise me. Walking out onto the stage with a ghostly white painted face, Thorburn holds a unique stage presence. If not for being such a downer, I would have no complaints. The energy was there. They were spot on. Even though they only performed three songs from “Return to Sea,” the show was great. The complexly orchestrated songs come to even more life than on record and seeing them perform allows you to see the intricacies of each one, down to the dropping of chains into a microphone for even more effect.

Coming out for a one song encore, a beautiful rendition of my personal favorite “Swans (Life After Death)” I was content. The Setlist was a bit short, but what few songs they did play were very powerful and it was an overall great live showgoing experience.islands


About Drew Litowitz

Sound advice.
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