Islands @ El Rey, 6.17.08 / by laurel

Way back at the beginning of April, I heard a new single from Islands' then-upcoming release, In Arm's Way (out 5/20 and available here). "Creeper" did precisely what its title suggests and crawled into my brain, clinging for dear life to any filament of music appreciation mashed up in there, cross-firing synapses so that I instinctively pressed "repeat" every time the song ended. At the time, I made a few grandiose claims that if the rest of the LP even remotely lived up to the insane catchiness of "Creeper," I'd be a fool not to throw in the towel, tie on an apron and submit to my duties as a long-suffering housewife because I would marry the album in a hot minute if I could.

The release almost lives up to the expectation. Almost. There's something about it that falls just short of eternal vows and a lifetime of wifely devotion, but it's nevertheless a stellar second album from Nick Thorburn & Co. So it was with these ever-so-slightly diminished expectations that I saw Islands last week at the El Rey Theater (The The Rey? Is that what I'm saying here?).

And let's just be honest: it was a Tuesday night. I (regretfully) have a 9 - 5. I was tired. I'd nibbled on some grub at Doughboys Express, but the gin and tonic I had subsequently was making me even sleepier. I had a conversation with Jen while we were waiting for the show to begin that went something like this:

Jen: It sucks when you go to a show and you start off being tired. Because then when it starts all you can think about is the show ending. "How many more songs do they have? Encore? Ok, ok just play one."

Me: "Ok. Maaaaybe two. Three TOPS."

Jen: Yeah, that sucks, because usually you just want the band to play forever, but when you are tired you just want it to end. No fun.
Our conversation was cut short by dimming lights. Thorburn and the rest of the band took the stage and what followed, I'm pleased to say, completely blew my idiotic expectations out of the water. (Oh, ye of little faith).

They opened the show with a shimmering wall of guitars and chain-like percussion, allowing "Vertigo (If It's A Crime)" to build (and build and build) until it exerted a cacophonous blast of sound. And the sound! Oh, sweet mother mary, the sound. It was flawless. Baroque piano swells bled into dueling squalls of violin, 10+ minutes of pure exhilaration which transitioned with a quick-change screech of the strings into album opener "The Arm."

The band stopped only once to breathlessly greet the crowd, and in truth, I've never been one with a high tolerance for inter-song band-crowd banter (unless the band is Magnetic Fields and the banter all revolves around a very crotchety Stephin Merritt, who is wholly delightful), and in this case, the songs transitioned so impeccably one into the next that to stop and blather on about the weather or Obama would have killed the mood completely.

"Kids Don't Know Shit" revealed itself amidst a sonic curtain of fuzz, "J'aime Vous Voire Quitter" with a jangly ska-like beat before cha-cha-ing into a loopy Island jam. The band played plenty of old favorites as well, tongues firmly in cheek during "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby."

Another bit of honesty, in the spirit of full disclosure here: During a show, I can't help but create a wishlist in my head of songs I want the band to play. In some cases, it's a given: Of course MGMT is going to play "Electric Feel." they only have one album of material to pull from. In other cases, it's up to the powers that be: Ryan Adams, you have about five billion albums in your formidable oeuvre. My wishlist is, at best, a flimsy "mother may I?" of expectations.

During Islands, I wanted four songs: "Swans (Life After Death)," "Rough Gem," "Creeper," and the inimitable "Volcanoes."

The band walked off the stage initially without playing a single one of those songs, but I clung to my black Moleskin wherein I'd written the secret desires of my heart because I knew--I KNEW--they'd be back (and who are we kidding, anyway? The encore is a given these days). And sure enough, as soon as they exited behind the curtains, the crowd went nuts, cawing and bleating in all manners of reckless abandon, imploring them back to the stage.


The encore was as follows:
1. Creeper
2. Rough Gem
3. Swans (Life After Death)

Had they also played "Volcanoes," it's very possible I would have fainted right then and there. After the show, I turned to Jen, who was in an equal state of breathless wonderment.

Me: This was definitely one of those nights where I wanted them to just play and play forever.

Jen: "Yes, definitely."