Monday, May 08, 2006

Islands @ the El Rey - Los Angeles 5/5

It may well have been around the time the Fire Department showed up that I realized that this show was a little different from others. But lets back up for a moment.

As I had mentioned in my Islands cd review, I saw the Unicorns near the end of their last tour and its was so horrible that I walked out, something I never do. Obviously that band was imploding at the time and it showed in a very real way. But Islands are a new venture, with new members and supposed new harmony so I went into the show with high hopes. After three songs my lady put her head on my shoulder and said she was going to fall asleep. Not a good start for sure, but thankfully it was not at all the way things would end up

Dressed in matching white outfits, the seven members of Islands started off playing well, yet feeling like they were going through the motions. But about 1/3rd of the way in the show got a jolt and never let up. During the song 'Where There Is A Will There's a Whalebone' they were joined onstage by show opener Why? and local boy Busdriver for the rap interlude that some just love to hate. In this setting it worked tremendously, and yes I like the song in its album form as well. Nick hopped up on Busdrivers shoulders and played keyboard with is feet. Hooray for tiny Canadians and their feet!

From that point on the band and crowd were in perfect harmony. Where they had been under whelming at the start, now they jumped, flailed and sparked with energy. They pulled a child onto stage, he looked to be about 12, and wrapped his head in toilet paper and had him hit the crap out of a piñata (it was cinco de Mayo after all). He stayed on stage for two songs and even got his own shoulder-top ride.

Two fun audience participation moments: Someone yelled out at one point "are you gonna break up?". Nick laughed and said "if you keep it up." Later during a break in the music someone shouted "Unicorns!". Nick immediately put a pox on them. J'amie the drummer tried to admonish the fan but Nick wouldn't let him. "He has a pox on him, a curse, and he has to live with that for the rest of his life".

Rocking surprisingly hard when they wanted to they played the entire album plus a couple new songs. Like I said, If the first few songs were a let down, the rest of the set was tight and highly energetic. Employing at various times 2 guitars, a banjo, a flute, 2 violins, the keyboard and bass, the band managed to get quite the epic soundtrack going.

Come encore time they launched into an extended version of 'Swans', during which a sparkler was lit on the end of Nick's guitar. This was obviously both expected and looked down upon by the folks at the El Rey as someone rushed on stage and doused his guitar with a fire extinguisher. Covered in white spray and choking on the fumes, Nick finished his solo on his back and then got up and announced to the crowd that it was time to go outside. A path was cleared and nick and the banjo player made their way out of the theater onto Wilshire Blvd, followed by the whole audience who were clapping a beat in unison.

They set up shop in front of a Smart and Final, jumping up on a tree planter. As the banjo kept playing they lit roman candles and watched them stream into the sky. Everyone from the venue followed them out and a couple thousand indie kids blocked Wilshire. One bus managed to make its way through and the looks of the faces of the passengers was priceless. As soon as it seemed it was about to die down, more fireworks were produced and tossed into the crowd for them to light. Streams of sparks shot up and soon enough the fire department showed up. Their rig sat on the other side of the street and the firemen could clearly be seen laughing at the scene. As an added bonus you could see all the people who had left before the encore running back from whatever sidestreets they had parked on.

Spectacle is all well and good if the music is bad, but when the band just gave you a good hour of fine performance and then brought the spectacle, well then bravo.