Give The People What WE Want: Islands Review

When Eels played at Oxegen in 2006, the audience was presented with thrashy versions of delicate pop songs, and a security guard performing dance & kung-fu moves on stage for the duration of the show. My disbelief was summed up perfectly at the time by Bob: "I've never seen a band perform with such contempt for their own fans".

In an eerie foreshadowing of things to come, Eels 'Beautiful Freak' was playing over the PA when I arrived at Whelans last night to watch Islands. While their performance did not reach the lows of Eels Oxegen set, it was clear from the beginning who Islands were out to please- themselves.

Continues after the jump..

After a prolonged delay in taking the stage, the band finally appeared and started off with a slow, quiet number which had much of the (fairly substantial) crowd heading to the bar. This unknown quiet opener was followed by an instrumental track, and then a new song. It was an uphill struggle for the band. They needed to start winning over the crowd- but with tracks such as Rough Gem & Where There's a Will, There's a Whalebone in their repertoire, this should not have been a problem.

When the horn playing started (I think it was a bass clarinet), things started looking up. The band cracked out a sort of rag-time number that did something towards getting the crowd behind them. Finally, five or six songs in we hear a song from their album, Return to the Sea (their only record, might I add. The new album isn't out til April). It's one that could be considered filler, but at least we're on the right track. Then, rather than build on this momentum, one gets the feeling of 'that should hold em for a while' as the band lash in to another run of new and obscure material.

Some of the crowd are visibly disappointed, the bulk of the revelers being more mopey than jumpy. The band are clearly saving all their crowd-pleasers for the end of the show. The entire performance must be building towards an inspired crescendo.

Then singer, Nick Diamonds announces that the next song will be the band's last.


I, like others, am not impressed. Diamonds notices this. "You know we'll really be playing more, right", he offers. "You'd want to be..", the crowd collectively mumbles. "Play Whalebone!", begs one punter. Diamonds' response: "Yeh... maybe".

Sensing the discontent, Islands play Don't call me Whitney, Bobby, one of the album's more popular offerings, raising some hopes for the encore- but after their minute or two offstage, the band return with another unheard track- so quiet that Diamonds takes it upon himself to shush the crowd. They finish with Return to the Sea's nine-and-a-half-minute opener, Swans, but they've already lost me.

What's the problem with giving the people what they want? I'm reminded of Radiohead's brief stint of refusing to play Creep, but (a) I sincerely doubt Islands have had as many requests for their popular songs, and (b) Radiohead had a huge back-catalog of material to chose from- Islands have one album.

I left the show with a bitter taste in my mouth. When I first heard Return to the Sea in 2006, I was resigned to the fact that I'd more than likely never see these amazing songs live. Unfortunately, even after seeing the band play.. that still seems to be the case.

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February 19, 2008 at 11:12 PM Evil Bob said...

I like it when I say things and then people listen to those things and then use it on blogs. Big Love.