Islands create a delightful mix of onstage antics, jangly pop, and slow dancing

By Rose Dichter Schapiro

If, by chance, some awful war happens and is followed by a traumatizing, eternal cold winter, it would be amazing if Islands were still around, simply so that they could play at the post-apocalyptic barbecue. That way, even if humanity has no sunlight, at least we’d all have peppy antics and shimmering guitar hooks. Though these things will probably seem like less of a comfort when the nuclear apocalypse does come, after Islands’ show at the Metro this Wednesday, the possibility of them jamming almost seems good enough.

Islands are (yet another) proto-indie-pop-jam band out of Montreal. Unlike many of their Canadian colleagues, their music seethes with undeniable happy energy, even when the lyrics are about dead bodies or breaking up. The lyrical angst prevalent in contemporary music is weirdly absent from Islands—instead, it has been replaced by jangling guitar riffs and joyous fiddling.

The band was formed last year by two ex-members of the briefly popular (at least in the well mediated mainstream indie scene) Unicorns. Jaime T’ambour, the drummer, and Nick “Niel” Diamonds, the lead vocalist (who also plays some guitar and keyboards), formed Islands after the dissolution of the Unicorns, which fell apart before its popularity really had a chance to cement. The Montreal residents assembled some of the best talent around in the hope of making a complex and lively band, and they succeeded. Islands includes multiple guitars, a complex drum set, a clarinet and saxophone, string instruments, and electronic blips. It is joyful, complex music that is always interesting to hear.

Islands released their first album, Return to the Sea, this April and have been touring in support of it. Openers Busdriver (an up-and-coming alternative rapper from Los Angeles) and Cadence Weapon held their own during their opening sets, which managed to get the crowd dancing. They also performed with Islands on the song “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whalebone,” which elicited positive reactions from the jiving audience.

When the many band members of Islands jaunted onto the stage of the Metro, clothed entirely in white, the all-ages crowd burst into automatic applause. Islands look hip—and it’s not just the color-coordinated outfits. With shaggy haircuts and relaxed demeanors, all seven performing members of the band looked happy to be onstage. Diamonds began the set standing on a set of stairs in the middle of the crowd, and unsuspecting audience members gasped as they saw the thin, exuberant singer looming over them and then running enthusiastically across the stage.

Diamonds’s antics continued throughout the set, though they were not unwelcomed by the audience members, who spazz-danced and waltzed (over by one corner of the stage at least) through the set. He playfully mussed an audience member’s hair and grabbed one front-rower’s camera to take pictures of his band mates and himself from the stage. The audience reciprocated, yelling such concert-shouting gems as “I love your hair!” Diamonds replied to these with great gusto, and the other band members smirked.

Islands rollicked their way through most of their first album and also played several new songs. Their songs and lyrics show an appreciation of the intricacies of rhythms and the classic nonsensical ba-ba-bas that make any pop song incredibly catchy and enticing. There is a weird, glowing darkness to what they play about. For the song “If,” the lyrics slink, “If you ain’t sweet to me, I’ll desert you in a heartbeat/ If you don’t savor me I’ll salt you, make you savory.” Prior to performing this song, Diamonds demanded that the audience slow dance with their fellow attendees. This vaguely awkward swaying didn’t manage to overtake the crowd with great force, but the waltzing teenagers in the corner certainly seemed to enjoy it.

For the song “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby,” Islands took the idea of a post-civilization concert into their own hands. “This song is about the end of the world,” said Diamond, before launching into the dark but peppy piece. Islands imbued their set with an appealingly manic joy, especially Diamonds, who was left lying on the stage alone with his guitar at the end of the extended jam “Swans,” which the band performed as a final encore before leaving the stage at 10 p.m., following Chicago’s rule about all-ages shows ending by that hour. As his band mates wandered off the stage, Diamonds lay on the ground, eyes pointed toward the ceiling, strumming slowly.