Future Islands // Live Review

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Electric Ballroom – May 7th

Samuel T. Herring sauntered onto the stage at Camden’s Electric Ballroom with the aura of a man who’s very much in control. “Wow!” He exclaimed with a hint of ironic surprise. “Look at all you people.”

Future Islands are a band not accustomed to playing such large rooms. That said, they are by no means novices. Formed in 2009 in North Carolina, they’re four albums deep and have garnered significant cult status in the US. Finally, though, Future Islands are getting the attention that their live shows and strong back catalogue deserve; thanks, mainly, to that performance on Letterman and their recent signing to do-no-wrong label 4AD.

From the moment William Cashion’s warm, yet jerky bass intro to ‘Back In the Tall Grass’ rings out, The Electric Ballroom is bouncing. Lead singer Samuel T. Herring, black t-shirt tucked into black trousers, shimmies into action. Herring has changed the rules on what it means to be a front-man in modern rock music. Melo-drama and theatrics combine with aggression, warmth and melancholy. He’s an utterly captivating presence; in the truest sense of the word. When he slinks across the stage, your eyes follow. When sings, you listen. At times, his voice filled is with humour and optimism (Give Us The Wind); at others, a sense of loss and desperation (A Song for Our Grandfathers, Little Dreamer) pours out and is felt by all in attendance. Herring also lays bare his inclination towards metal and screamo, as his voice morphs into a deep, guttural growl.

Herring’s histrionics provide an interesting juxtaposition with the rest of the band. William Cashion is a static presence on stage. Sonically, however, he is anything but. Owing much to 70s disco and funk , Cashion’s bass-line are what really get the audience moving. His contribution to ‘Doves’ sounds like something from a Giorgio Moroder record. Recent single ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ sits beautifully on Cashion’s plush groove as he drives the track forward and sends Samuel T. Herring into a frenzy of hip swinging and gorilla-like chest pounding.

In his 2010 book entitled, Listen To This, acclaimed music writer and novelist Alex Ross makes the claim that: “The best music is music that convinces you that no other music exists.” No other band touring right now can add more weight to that theory. Herring draws you into his world; he breathes life into his lyrics. He makes you have faith. “Come with me’” he might say. “Everything’s going to be fine.” At times during the performance, I’m dumbfounded. Finding myself thinking, “This is all just for me.” Seemingly, this level attention is paid to every member of the audience as Herring gazes into the sea of enraptured eyes that stare back, waiting for his next move. Contrast this, with the growling, snarling, chest beating side of Herring; the side that makes you think that he might have murdered a few people, and you’ve got a very intriguing lead-singer indeed.

Little Dreamer, taken from 2008 release Wave Like Home, is a fittingly tender climax to an evening that’s been filled with bombast. “My little dreamer/I’ll always dream of you,” he purrs. These are lyrics that may perhaps sound a little trite; bland, even. But once you’re under Future Island’s spell you’re ready to believe anything that Herring tells you.

Having cut their teeth for a long while before finally breaking into the wider public consciousness, Future Islands have crafted their live set into something nearing perfection. And despite his sarcastic comment earlier in the evening, I’m convinced that Samuel T. Herring, master manipulator, had it planned this way all along.

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Buy: Future Islands – Singles

Live: Shepherds Bush Empire – November 6th