Photos by Carey Coleman
Islands’ set opened with a nostalgia-heavy slide show depicting life in 2006 followed by videos taken either by fans or famous people or friends of the band. These may have been inside jokes, who knows, but either way they were funny. Then Islands took the stage! It was immediately apparent that this was not just any concert but, a recollection of something. Here we were packed into the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, to see a band bring together a number of past members to play their debut album in full. (Take a look at the album’s liner notes to see what I mean.) A small game of musical chairs took place between each song, as musicians moved from place to place both on and off the stage. It was even fitting that Islands’ lead, Nick Thorburn, appeared to peer at lyric sheets on the floor for the first two songs, as we all thought back to the days of deciding which Islands tracks to include on an 80-minute mix CD.
For a decade, I’d been dreaming of finally seeing Islands perform live, and especially “Swans (Life After Death)” and “Humans.” Luckily this is how Return To The Sea begins. The third track quickly turned into a singalong with the crowd shouting, “Open your eyes look around you/Fuck what you heard/You were lied to” before jumping into pop-hit “Rough Gem” followed by instrumental-groove “Tsuxiit.” Next came my personal highlight with “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone” and an appearance from Giovanni Marks (known as Subtitle) — he laid down his verses in prime form. After the next two songs, we got a handful of laughs, as Thorburn shuffled over to Geordie Gordon’s keyboard while playfully complaining about having to play the next song “If,” which he crushed. After the set’s closer, “Ones,” the band left the stage. For those who don’t know, the album’s true closer is a “hidden track” with minutes of waves crashing in order to “hide” it. A rainstick was brought in to replace the ocean before all the dozen or so performers returned to the stage for a celebratory rendition of “Bucky Little Wing.”
But the show was not over! The members of Islands circa 2016 returned to the stage after an interesting intermission featuring a ghost from the cemetery. They played a song from each of their subsequent albums, beginning with “Creeper” off Arm’s Way. Next came “Heartbeat,” “Hallways,” and “Wave Forms.” Then Thorburn took a moment to acknowledge how America’s in a rough place and that he has the luxury to “look away” — but those who can look away have a responsibility to fight for the people who don’t have that luxury. After this somber moment and a loud cheer from the crowd they jumped right into “Pumpkin” before closing out the set with “Fear.”
The whole performance was a pleasure to attend. Return To The Sea was a production to perform, and they pulled it off. The evening had that festive buzz that something special was taking place. If you can, be sure to catch the New York City performance of Return To The Sea at Webster Hall this Saturday.