concert reviews

Islands' Rhythms Keep Audience From Drifting
Islands at the Black Cat, Washington, DC, Tuesday 25 April 2006

With Canadian rock ensembles getting larger and larger these days -- witness the eight-member Arcade Fire and the 16-piece Broken Social Scene -- fellow countrymen Islands seem pretty small with only seven members. But for singer-guitarist-keyboardist Nick Diamonds and drummer J'aime Tambeur, that must seem enormous compared with their previous group, the three-piece Unicorns.

At the Black Cat on Tuesday night, the seven musicians switched styles as easily as they changed instruments; their cache included two violins, a recorder, a clarinet, a keyboard, three guitars, a bass and drums. The melodic "Humans" hinted at Queen's dramatic quirkiness, while the danceable "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby" recalled some of Animal Collective's more conventional songs. The group was joined by two rappers on "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone," and the sprawling 10-minute "Swans (Life After Death)" built into an orchestral grand finale.

The relatively short set, a little more than an hour, kept the songs engaging. Only during the quiet tunes did the audience begin to chatter: Just before a sultry bass clarinet line in "If," Diamonds shushed the crowd, playfully giving the "zip it" sign. Very few heeded his wish -- at least until the next song, the captivatingly raucous "I Feel Evil," locked their attention for the rest of the show.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 27 April 2006; Page C04
.: Selected discography: Return to the Sea (Islands, 2006); Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (The Unicorns, 2004).