Islands, in some bizarre derived form, are forever.

The Unicorns are dead. The quirky and lovable band The Unicorns that spawned Islands following a fateful show in Texas was no more. Well, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Wednesday March 19th presented quite a difficult decision. Do I stay on campus and catch internationally known singer songwriter José González perform in Graham Chapel for free, or do I drive into South St. Louis and catch relatively unknown indie pop band Islands play at Off Broadway, paying the $12 cover? It really should have been a simple decision. I go see José González shred in all his Swedish Argentine folk glory, crumbling the Missouri granite that holds Graham Chapel’s century-old stained glass windows in place. But I also took into account the potential snooze-factor of solo acoustic guitar played inside a church. Remembering the endless Sunday mornings I’ve spent fighting sleep inside my own Catholic church, I assumed the result wouldn’t be much different inside Washington University’s non-sectarian church.

So off I go to South St. Louis where I easily spot Off Broadway, surround by what appears to be empty lots and a closed gas station. With the forbidding Lemp Brewery, mostly abandoned since Prohibition, looming nearby, I walk inside. I arrive just seven minutes past the scheduled show time, which translates into about 53 minutes before the actual start time. To pass the time I amble around Off Broadway’s mostly empty performance space, eventually spending my time trying to read the album names from the huge CD collection sitting behind the soundboard. The floor was still mostly empty when opening band Pomegranates walked onto the stage. But like a siren tempting lost mariners, the opening chord beckoned a legion of kids trying to look uninterested from an unassuming side door. Presumably it leads to a covered patio crafted especially to accommodate smokers, which explains how cool they looked walking in.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed about Pomegranates was that they were not a three-piece rap group with sick flow. No, they were actually a four-piece not far removed from indie darlings/bastard children Vampire Weekend. Listen to “The Bellhop” from their new full length “Everything is Alive” and you’ll understand. Atlanta rap group Surpreeme was scheduled to open the tour, but a post-show chat with Pomegranates drummer Jacob Merritt revealed that Surpreeme never showed up to their first show with Islands. They were apparently too busy mixing their album to tour and never bothered to tell anyone. So, want for an opener, Islands signed on Pomegranates to flesh out the tour, liking what they heard when they played as a local opener in Cincinnati. Overall, the crowd’s reaction was positive, some turning to their friends and nodding their approval as they walked off stage while inviting the crowd to greet them at the merch table in the back.

When Islands walked on stage a short time later, the crowd excitedly applauded their presence. After quickly looking over the band, it hits me, “The Unicorns are dead.” Hell, these guys aren’t even the same Islands I saw two years ago. They’ve switched wardrobe from spotless white to a flat black. They’ve lost drummer and Unicorns alum Jaime Thompson, put pop masterpiece Rough Gem into the grave, and Islands leader Nick Diamonds has reassumed his given surname of Thorburn. Crowd requests for Rough Gem and Unicorns song “Les Os” not only went unrequited, they went ignored. Nick doesn’t even play his trusty Juno 6 keyboard anymore, instead assigning Sebastian Chow the duties. The band is clearly tired of seeing Islands (ex-Unicorns) appear on tickets and billboards four years after they ceased to exist and will doing everything in their power to slash their association with them.

The show itself was entertaining, if not a little uninspired at times. Islands treated the crowd to seven songs off the upcoming album, “Arm’s Way,” including standout tracks Vertigo and Abominable Snow, as well as first single “The Arm.” Overall, the new album is darker, with a lot more focus on rock rather than pop. I will admit that I have high hopes for the new album, even if I must finally let go of the last thread of quirky synth pop I’ve loved for some many years. And, if anything, Islands tongue-in-cheek cover of Sinead O’Connor track “Red Football” toward the end of the set gave me hope that a glimmer of morbid cheeriness still rests somewhere inside Nick’s body.

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