Islands’ show at The Media Club on Saturday night was possibly one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, and that is saying something. The band hit the tiny stage in their ’50s style getups, all slicked hair and cuffed pants, shoes shined and socks matching, and immediately started rocking the crowd with a few songs off their newest album Ski Mask. A projector sent black and white images of various dark scenes dancing across the faces of the four band members and onto a screen set up behind the drummer – who I’m convinced, by the way, keeps the rhythm not through talent alone but also the convenient bouncing metronome that is his perfect afro. This gave the band a strange holographic look, like they’d just stepped out of a VHS recording of a band playing 60 years ago. That, coupled with the close quarters and low lighting, lent a lovable layer of grime to the concert atmosphere; the air vent leaking almost constantly onto my ever-bobbing head only added to the effect.
The Media Club was the perfect venue, providing an intimacy between band and crowd that felt like a delicious, dirty secret known only to us privileged few. I had no trouble at all in pushing my way to the front, and from there it was a simple matter of dance or be danced. With an indie-rock sound that was part Strokes, part Beach Boys, and a whole lot of something in between, Islands had the crowd moving from the first song to even after the encore.
Beer was constantly being spilled onto the stage and the band retaliated by flicking sweat-sodden hair in time with the music. It was soon hard to tell what exactly was dampening my clothes more. Nick Thorburn, the lead vocalist, had to remove his jacket after the first five or so songs, which was a shame not only because it was a sick jacket but also because it meant more exposure to the gallons of sweat pouring off his everything. To be fair, he came by it honestly, jiving and grooving and generally swingin’ the night away as he belted out two hours of Islands tunes, new and old. His every move was deliberate and energetic, whether a perfect mic toss paired with a clever two-step or a seemingly reckless leap onto the bass drum.
As is typical of the band’s earlier albums, Ski Mask is full of dark lyrics and contradictorily upbeat, playful instrumentation. The words evoke feelings of heartbreak and almost desperate compassion, which is a confusing thing to feel when you’re doing the twist and bobbing your head maniacally. When the band played “Tender Torture”, an old favourite from their 2009 album Vapours, the guy dancing next to me grabbed my arm and pulled me into a weird sort of swing dance while he sang every word along with Thorburn. He shouted in my ear afterwards that that song will “really make you feel, ya know, but also your legs just can’t help moving and you just wanna… you just gotta DANCE.” This eloquent description is actually pretty apt, once you read between the blurred, slightly slurred words.
I took my silver-tongued friend’s words to heart and boogied my way through Islands’ entire set. When they left the stage, their strategically placed hand-written set lists were promptly stolen by a few adoring fans before the crowd even started chanting for an encore. They came back out with “Vapours”, another crowd favourite, and when they finally headed off for good we were left tired, sweaty, and full of leftover rhythm that just wouldn’t quit. People literally danced their way out of the club, away from a show that did what so many indie-rock concerts aspire to do – rocked us in a way we’ve never been rocked before, with a reassuring smack of nostalgia.
If you really want to know what an Islands concert is like, put on your favourite Hawaiian shirt and golf shoes, drink some cherry soda out of a pineapple by the beach, and toss on your favorite garage-rock headbanger. Think about how blasé your life is while you soak up a little paradise. Or, if that sounds a little overwhelmingly hipster, just go see Islands if you get the chance. It’s an experience I recommend to anyone; a dirty secret I’m more than willing to share.