With his band Islands' 2006 debut,
Return to the Sea
, Nick Thorburn proved how vital Paul Simon's latter-day efforts,
The Rhythm of the Saints
, were to indie's pop kids. Simon's flavorful, ethnocentric pulsations and twittering, weird melodies infiltrated most of what singer/songwriter/guitarist Thorburn came up with.
So it's a shame that another band, the lesser Vampire Weekend, got credit for the Simon resurgence. But maybe it's a blessing as Islands' newest effort,
benefits from the rhythmic heft of its past (such tom-tom-ing!) buoyed by an epic rock grandeur that would make Queen seem less than a duke.
A caterwauling Thorburn, his violinists, his guitarist/saxophonist, and the rest of Islands sold out First Unitarian Church on Friday night with that contagiously catty rock roar at the ready. It was a kvetching sound that, in a live setting, seemed to borrow the histrionic quiver of T. Rex without ever being imitative. It had harmonies to spare. And its bigness allowed Thornburn's clever glad-to-be-unhappy lyricism to come through loud and clear.
Thorburn - in white face, no less - crooned with utter breathlessness atop the slicing violins, tinkling piano, and twin-guitar howl of "The Arm" and the gypsy dub crunch of "Where There's a Will, There's a Whalebone."
"If anyone finds out / I'll turn their lights out," he screeched during the latter tune, this before running roughshod through the hyper-rumbling rhythms of "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby" and the Tijuana taxi-break of "J'Aime Vous Voir Quitter." That Thorburn grappled with sadness and desperation throughout Islands' most chipper moments was coolly and powerfully incongruous. Like someone pigging out on chocolate bonbons during a funeral, Thorburn luxuriated in grief with the chamber-string arrangement and clap-along rhythm of "Rough Gem," the handiest example of delirious grace under pressure.