Live (almost): Islands @ Black Cat

Posted in Alternative, Indie, Live Music, Pop, Rock by dc3 on July 2, 2010

Live shows are always filled with unease. Maybe it’s the strange realization that the voice you’ve been listening to for a year now through headphones actually has a voice box and a head and appendages attached to it. Or perhaps it’s your own nervousness for the artist who’s meeting hundreds of people he doesn’t know but who in some abstract music-is-the-expression-of-the-soul kind of way already know him.

In any case, this unease was too much and caused me both to take the Metro in the wrong direction and to almost fall forward accidentally walking down the up escalator. After thinking that these two literal reversals of direction were some unspoken symbolic message to “turn-back,” and seriously considering calling the whole thing off, I decided that that would be the stupidest reason to miss a perfectly good concert and so decided to forget about the whole thing. The rest of the night contained no other prophetic signs.

The Black Cat blends right in with the rest of the two to three story buildings on the street, their paint-chipped exteriors betraying their 1970’s est. dates. The sand brick of the front resembles the Alamo, but after everyone’s forgotten about it. A steel garage-like door, the kind that opens upward, guards the entrance as a colorful cast of people (euphemism) line up along the street. It’s a wonder why the Black Cat is situated in a predominately black neighborhood in DC, at which point my thoughts wonder to what came first, the African Americans or Black Cat and if the latter came later (you like that huh?), whether the name choice was at all informed by the demographics surrounding the place (along with the logically subsequent thought of whether the place would instead be called Yellow Cat if fate had somehow landed it in Chinatown).

Racial musings aside, the Black (or White, or Brown, or Yellow) Cat boasts all the features of a typical indie establishment. The main stage, dimly lit, is covered by what surely is a leaky roof. Red brick walls and two bars flank the floor which has its own grungy personality. Messages of visitors past have assumed a permanent residence on the few tables that sit in the back. “Bitch” is carved out right between “Fuck” and “Hiiii!!” I was tempted to scratch my own enlightening remark on the table, but couldn’t do any better than what was already written so decided against it.

It’s the bathroom that does it though. At any place like this, the bathroom is the coup de grace; the main exhibit or the master bedroom if you will. Without a characteristically memorable bathroom, the whole place may as well not exist. Luckily, the lady at the ticket booth referred to the men’s room as the door with the hole in it. I could smell the urine before opening the door which, (trust me) is a good sign. The walls and floor must have been white once upon a time, but years of sweat, grime, and abuse have given it a new coat of paint. What was fun was how the urinals were so closely squeezed together and exposed. I can already picture the awkward jostling, sideways peek-a-boo glances, and ensuing jealously (or boost in self-esteem if that’s your thing) that was inevitable. Someone was even bold enough to take a shit in the bathroom. I applaud the guy in brown sandals and beige cargo shorts.

I saw all this, but not before being tattooed by marks the x’s that every self-conscious human being wants to hide like an ugly birthmark. To someone more poetic, it feels like someone has just crossed you out with some metaphysical black marker. But I get over it, knowing that trying to wash it off in said bathroom would make me more deserving of the x than if I had just let it go.

Sitting in the back of the stage like one of those detectives in those westerns in a cowboy hat in the corner of the bar, I get a good view of the whole room. The floor is filled with a collection of plaids, skinny jeans, converses, and ironic T’s. A mohawk or two punctures the air above the crowd’s heads too. It really begins to look like a good dingy place to enjoy music.

Steel Phantoms

The opener is Steel Phantoms which sounds like a bunch of dirty twenty somethings screaming hoarsely not unlike this:

They are steel in the bland-factory-produced sense and certainly phantom in a hard-to-believe-and-probably-shouldn’t-exist-in-real-life sense.

Active Child

Active Child, however, is a bit more difficult to describe. The first instrument they haul onto the stage is a small harp. An electric bass, a keyboard, and a macbook follow, but I barely notice because I just stare at the small harp at the center of the stage. Active child is actually just one person… so I don’t know who the rando playing bass was on the side. He’s the real phantom.

Wilderness // Curtis Lane EP

Weight of the World // Curtis Lane EP

Sporting a denim shirt and jeans, the singer lays down some pre-generated synth on the macbook, sits down at the harp, and belts out in falsetto. He has a choir-like voice but, much louder and strained. The whole time, the harp is just as mesmerizing as his voice. They both come out much better live. It’s not until I get home that I realize he reminds me of M83. There are a few great moments where he’s nearly screaming and he’s got his eyes closed and you aren’t sure if his voice is going to crack or not and he’s pulling at his shirt as if he’s going to rip it off but doesn’t.


After an intermission where most of the people just stand around awkward and purposeless without an artist to listen to, Islands step onstage. The Canadian Islands sprang from the Unicorns, producing similar indie rock with poppy elements. Tonight, vocalist Nick Thorburn wears white everything and a Justin Bieber haircut. His catchy melodies usually carry the song. All of their stuff sounds pretty unserious, even the one about a creeper who murders the singer.

The set starts with “Switched On,” but I’m too unfarmiliar with their songs to follow the rest. Most of the cheers go to their Return to the Sea performances, which sound completely different from the two later albums (as a result of band members leaving). Live, everything is much more abrasive and Thorburn’s voice is barely discernable. It seems to work for them, making them sound less twee. At one point Thorburn pulls his hood over his head and sings blind like a retarded hipster ghost. That was the strangest part of the performance.

Switched On // Vapours

Vapours // Vapours

Creeper // Arm’s Way

Tender Torture // Vapours

Where there’s a Will there’s a Whalebone // Return to the Sea

Tsuxiit // Return to the Sea

Rough Gem // Return to the Sea

Don’t Call me Whitney, Bobby // Return to the Sea

I unfortunately left in the middle of their encore, worrying about catching the last metro of the night and not having enough cash for a cab. After getting lost in a neighborhood of entirely identical houses and flipping a shit, I finally found a metro station and made it home safely.


3 Responses

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  1. bakeryjake said, on July 4, 2010 at 2:23 am


    • ipracticeyoga said, on July 23, 2010 at 3:09 am

      lol more like d-c-three balls all of which havent dropped yet! seriously steel phantoms? they sound lik chewbacca takin a shit! or maybe a garbage truck idk but keep the music coming

      • dc3 said, on July 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm

        Hahaha. They were pretty terrible. If you had read the post, you would have known! Oh, i an curerently typig with one hand on the keeiboard and one hand on my balls. There are two. and they have droyped. Perhaps you would like to come over and confirm. With your mouth.

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