A band’s homecoming is normally marked by long lineups, a packed venue, and an excessively excited crowd waiting to see a little piece of their city up on stage. At the Island’s concert at the Theatre Plaza last Friday, frontman Nicholas Thorburn, now living in New York, fittingly chimed in midway through the set and mistakenly said: “This is like a hometown show, except none of us live here.” Montreal may be Islands’ point of origin, but it’s clear from the less than packed venue and moderately excited crowd that this band, one of Montreal’s biggest exports of the past decade, has left this city behind.
The Islands’ set began with the foursome emerging from the back of the venue wearing what must have been leftover outfits from Ziggy Stardust’s wardrobe. Thorburn was draped in a large white rhinestone cape and matching glitter gloves.
They kicked off the set with “Switch On,” a track from their latest album, Vapours. The bedazzled Thorburn swayed around the microphone with charming charisma, but the crowd remained distant, never showing too much interest.
Islands continued to play songs from Vapours until they dug into their back catalogue and played “Creeper,” a single from their second album, Arm’s Way.
The defining sound that made Arm’s Way was the densely packed rich sound that bordered on grandiose. Played live by the smaller lineup, “Creeper” flattened out and lacked everything that made it a standout track.
Islands then dug up “Where There’s a Will There’s a Whalebone” from their breakout album, Return to the Sea. Cadence Weapon was brought on stage to perform the mid-track freestyle breakdown and was flawless.
The rest of the set was a mix of material. Tracks from Vapours and Return to the Sea were near perfect, but any track from Arm’s Way suffered and sounded half-baked at best.
After pitiful applause from the audience, Islands returned to play two more songs, and then ended the show on a Friday night that was still much too young.
Out of the two openers, Gregory Pepper and His Problems proved to be the better, or at the very least the most enjoyable. It’s easy to sum up Pepper: catchy songs about nothing important. Early into the set they played a song about “making it in a hot tub.” While lyrically ridiculous, it managed to crack a few smiles, and turned out to be quite catchy. The majority of their set was made up of the same sort of unintentionally-hilarious-but-hook-laden songs.
The second opener, DJ Toro Y Moi, was plagued by technical issues and looked noticeably rushed. He worked his way through the first few songs with an obtrusive crackle emanating from the house speakers but finally solved the issue after fiddling with his equipment.
What could have been a grand homecoming fell flat. Not because of a poor performance, but simply because this band has moved on and away to much bigger things. Montreal has become just another stop on a multi-city tour.