Two concert reviews for your perusal
// JJ Brewis

Islands, at the Rio Theatre

March 8 With their fourth album A Sleep & A Forgetting recently released, it was no surprise that Islands would stick mostly to material from that release in a live set.

Frontman Nick Thorburn lacks a stage presence, coming off like a shy talent-show hopeful; it's only his shining voice that makes him stand out. Though not much fun to watch onstage, Islands have a well-rounded set list which ranges from honky-tonk piano ditties, to the early 2000s indie-pop favourites from their debut, such as the now-relevantly-titled “Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby”, which got the biggest response of the night.

Much like the light-up skull sitting atop the piano may have suggested, their newer material is getting progressively darker, but it remains accessible to those familiar with their early work, like the die-hard, sing-a-long groupies crowding to the front of the Rio's stage. After all, this is the same Thorburn that once fronted one of Canada's shortest-lived but most-beloved indie bands, The Unicorns.

With mid-‘80s Joy Division gloomster imagery like the industrialized set design and their blackon- black roses cover of Forgetting, it's clear that Islands are visibly moving in a new direction – or at least attempting to. There is a lot of potential here that the band seems to come close to capturing, but the slightly askew stage presence gets in the way. The banter was barely there at all, with Thorburn introducing a handful of songs by title only, and otherwise never really addressing the adoring crowd. This lack of connection was augmented by the dim lighting during the first set.

By the crowds responsiveness, however, it seems that this detached and fragmented energy is the band's appeal, and like hundreds of punk bands before them, the disconnect between band and audience makes them that much more mysterious.

Overall, the songs stand on their own. One such standouts as the new tortured-heart ballad "Lonely Love", Thorburn's vocal pallet provides a perfect springboard for self-doubt sifted through an alt-country filter. So, perhaps the visual appropriation is just a mere goth tribute, as Islands remain true to their original sound, showing just enough evolution to not get lost in the shuffle.

Slow Club, at the Media Club

March 6 Just when you think Sheffield, England duo Slow Club are virtually unknown to everyone but yourself, you show up at a packed Media Club, where the entire room sings along with every verse. I had to actually strategically wedge myself halfway between the side of the stage and a large speaker just so I could get an accurate reading of how the male-female harmonies translated into a live set.

Multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Taylor charmed fanboys and girls alike with her smooth transitions, beginning with peppy vocals, extending to guitar, and eventually perching behind the drum kit by the show's final stretch. Her folksy harmonies with bandmate Charles Watson are somehow almost better live than on the band's recordings. Backed in a live setting with two additional musicians to round out their sound, Taylor and Watson had a great showcase of rounded out, live versions of their well-crafted alt-pop with notes of blues rock, garage, and just a pinch of twee.

Slow Club hover around their debut album Yeah So's foundation, just slightly altering the formula on last year's Paradise which saw the duo straying slightly from their cutesy formula.

The newer songs show the band’s songwriting development, adding in more percussion, which lends itself well to a live set. The band's early songs, such as set standout "Giving Up On Love" seemed to be most popular with the crowd, and fair enough: as exciting as it is to see someone pull off whapping at the drum kit while delivering a passionate vocal, it's audibly satisfying to see the duo lined up at the microphones delivering a two-part love song.

The harmonies in their early material have been so perfected over the past half-decade that it's impressive that they still seem so passionate in the delivery. At one point, Watson was shredding on his guitar while Taylor and an additional drummer both banged heavily on the stage's two drum kits, a sound the intimate Media Club could barely handle, but it somehow still translated to tenacious stage energy.

For all the rock-heavy or folksy harmonizing moments, Taylor seemed dead set on proving that they're not one of those pushover bands who just give in to every demand. After about the seventh crowd request for the band's "Christmas TV", she responded to the crowd with "You know that band who play 'My Sharona'? I heard a story where one time a crowd requested it and they played that song straight for a whole hour. And then they made the guy come onstage and take all his clothes off." The story met with a huge audience group laugh, just as Taylor cued the band to spontaneously play ‘TV’, which, though a bit rusty, seemed like it was legitimately a last minute decision – a rare true rock-and-roll moment, which satiated the crowd.

//JJ Brewis, art director
//Author illustration

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