Live Review: Islands at The RIO Theatre

I hadn’t slept well in weeks, I was filled with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and I’d spent the previous day to this day re-listening to the albums in a newest to oldest format; the perfect beginning for what was going to be a bit of an odd show.
I took my usual route to get to commercial station, which seemed to take forever this time, and met Cali in the Blenz across the street. Stefan was going to be late, but whatever, it wasn’t going to start for another…15-30 minutes anyways. We ran into a friend of mine, Ian, as we were heading in, and pleasantries were exchanged, and then we went right on in.

I’d been to the Rio Theater before for a movie, but never for a live event. And I have to say that it was another really enjoyable venue. The lobby was sort of cramped for a place to hang out and talk before a concert started, but the theater doors were open so that no one had to make themselves 2D in order to fit everyone in. It was your pretty standard theater set-up, which is GREAT for a live show. Chairs were comfortable, you could move the armrest dealies out of the way or extra in the way, the gradient made everything easily visible (so I didn’t feel that I needed to be at face-breaking distance from the stage to enjoy things), the room was MADE to have lots of sound and had the acoustics to back it up, and most importantly, there was a giant stage to perform on. You could either sit comfortably, or head down to the front and get dancing; perfect mix.

Things got started and we got comfy at the side of the room so that Cali could Sonic her way down to the front and take pictures as need be, and Idiot Glee got things started.

Idiot Glee is James Friley, a mid-‘20s, sarcastic, straight man (at least what I got from him being on stage), that some people might find off-putting, and others (like me) might find charming and hilarious. A one man band, he had a keyboard/synth/controller set-up that had as many wires as a terminal in-patient. Sometimes things sounded a bit 80’s and other times he had more of a ‘70s R&B sound to things. He used a lot of pre-recorded stuff that he played over, and then used loops to harmonize, which sounded awesome, and must’ve been a bit difficult to do given the night’s circumstances (see below). Unfortunately I don’t know any of titles of his songs, but over-all it was an interesting set with some unfortunate technical issues. The first song was cut short all of a sudden and there was a mad dash to try and fix the problem. There were also a few feedback and mic issues, and for not being able to hear himself in the monitor for practically the whole set, he did a damn good job of keeping things in order.

After the second song, some girl puked down near the front in one of the rows, and they decided it would be cool to just move and not tell anyone; you know, no big deal, it just cleans itself up and it’s disgusting right? If you do something stupid, just tell someone so they can take care of it instead of being an idiot and ruining someone else’s night with the gifts you leave on the floor.

As said before, he was a pretty funny guy, and had a smoke machine (“This is my smoke machine” cue giant plumes of smoke blasting from the side of the stage), and when people asked who he was he said his name was James, which made people call out “What’s your stage name, how can we find you?”

He pulled out a simple:
“Google James.”

Near the end of his set, he said he could play one more song, to which people yelled out
and my personal favourite

He then played a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Bill Withers, who (according to his website bio) has been a big influence on his music. It was definitely my favourite of his set and a great way to go out.

My friend Stefan had said “I can just imagine the first time he played a show for his mom and she was like: …(slow clap).” I think it was a fair assessment, which is not at all saying it was bad, but just that it was definitely an odd set (mostly because of the technical issues and vomiting), and maybe not for everyone but give it a listen, it’s got a different, interesting feel to it, and that Bill Withers cover was brilliant.

Now it was time for a massive sound check. And it was also time for me to make note of the beer guy with his baseball-peanut-guy carrying case, yelling out “GET YOUR BEER HERE” and whipping cans of beer into the crowd with near-perfect aim (minus that one guy he smoked in the head, leading to a spray of blood and a near concussion).

Okay that didn’t happen but it would’ve been kinda funny if it did right? Kinda.
But it was a little odd to see someone wearing one of those things, going around selling beer, and a really cool idea at the same time.

Now it was time for Islands.

Touring to promote their new album, A Sleep & A Forgetting, they got onto the stage to clapping and cheering as they made use of the smoke machine as a vertical vox wave patterned for Nick Thorburn’s singing overlapped the band. They ran through a bunch of songs from the new album to start off the set: Same Thing, In A Dream It Seemed Real, Lonely Love, No Crying (I think, it’s the only one I’m not sure of), This Is Not A Song, Never Go Solo, and Cold Again. Now, their new album is more mellow and quiet but to be honest, these first seven songs were lack-luster. It seemed as if the band was somewhere else and there was no life to the music or connection to the audience, which may’ve had something to do with the significance of the sounds and feelings behind the words of songs from this break-up album. Had the concert continued this way, I would’ve been really bummed, as I’d been really looking forward to this.

However, that was not to be. As they finished Cold Again, Nick Thorburn asked us “How you guys doin’?” And then things really picked up and came to life as Shotgun Vision hit like a double barrel dose of rock salt to the face.

They then played an awesome list of some of the faster-paced, more up-beat songs from the new album, and some much needed old favorites. EOL and Creeper followed Shotgun Vision to the excitement of audience. We were then treated to Nick Thorburn joining Geordie Gordon on the piano as they double-teamed the piano line for Hallways, with Luc Laurent keeping a big band-esque heavy drum beat, that got people at the front moving.

Oh Maria and Swans followed, with Swans having a fantastic breakdown at the end. Switched On and Don’t Call Me Whitney Bobby (RIP), prefaced Can’t Feel My Face, which is probably my favourite song from the new album, since it has a really groovy organ sound backed up by tambourine and shaker, despite the heartbreaking words behind it.

Islands finished up with an encore of Where There’s A Wish There’s A Whale Bone that had an instrumental section filling in for the rapping done by Busdriver and Subtitle. Everything got wrapped up with Heartbeat, and I was left feeling like the both bands had finished up by redeeming any issues at the beginning of their sets.

Though I did wish that Islands had played more from Arm’s Way (my favourite album hurr durr), I feel like I appreciate the new album a lot more, and that a few songs (Can’t Feel My Face and Hallways in particular) really grew on me. And though issues were had, it was still a fun night, and both Idiot Glee and Islands showed us why they’ve been signed and tour all over the place. Idiot Glee’s ‘70s R&B influenced songs and Islands’ second half of their set (and a couple from the first half) shone bright, and are a prime example of what we need to be hearing more of today in music.

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