Shepherds Bush Empire – November 6th
I always say the sign of a good band is if you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard them. A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a bunch of CDs that contained his favourite records. I sifted through the free haul carelessly for a new music buzz as soon as I got home and amongst Wild Nothing’s Gemini and Women’s Public Strain was In the Evening Air. The intro to ‘Walking through that door’ came on, that effectual goose bump-worthy intro that still makes the hairs on the back of my arm stand up. In that moment, Sam Herrings voice struck an emotional cord in my otherwise cold teenage angst interior and left a permanent mark on my heart.
4 years later, I’m gracelessly making my way through the crowded standing stalls area of the resplendent Shepherds Bush Empire in efforts to get as close to the stage as possible while spilling my beer on some of the unsuspecting audience (sorry guys). This was going to be my fourth time seeing Future Islands live and I was as excited as I was when I first saw them. I wasn’t the only one, the anticipation forming within the sold out venue was almost palatable and eventually culminated in a wave of cheers and applause when the four Baltimore boys took their rightful places on stage.
Your eyes immediately move to the fist-clenching, air-grabbing, chest-punching Samuel T. Herring. He is everything you want in a front man. His passion is contagious and not only can it be felt vocally but seen physically. It exudes, engulfs and energizes those who are lucky enough to witness him in the flesh. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a group effort. Without J. Gerrit Welmers on keyboards and William Cashion’s flawless and distinctive bass playing, Future Islands would be another fart in the wind. I realise then, looking around at everyone’s tear stained joyous faces that this band really has become a pandemic (and it’s not just because of their Letterman performance).
The set list is a pick and mix of tracks from their excellent synth pop discography and it’s impossible for me not to notice that Future Islands isn’t one of those bands with just two or three songs that feature catchy hooks. Most of them do. The evolution of this band is also apparent with how uninhibited and honest they continue to be. The vulnerability in ‘Little Dreamer’ from their experimental 2008 record Wave like Home is ever present and even more raw live than recorded. Then there’s ‘Tin Man’ from 2010’s In the Evening Air. A clear fan favourite that provokes screams after the first few notes and is as bold as it is emotionally crippling.
Of course they air a fair few tracks from their fourth album Singles dropped earlier this year, which so happens to be an undeniable masterpiece. It features some of the bands more uplifting numbers like love song ‘Sun in the Morning’ and the positive and empowering ‘Spirit’. They are so fantastically performed that I can’t help but mimick Herring’s erratic dad dancing. However, it’s ‘Seasons’ that receives the biggest reaction from the enthusiastic crowd. Those who were previously seated on the balcony had gotten to their feet, arms in the air, singing those lyrics that made the song an instant classic “seasons change / I’ve been waiting on you”.
Herring tells us this is the biggest show they’ve ever played and I nod in agreement. It’s the biggest venue I’ve seen them in. Yet there he is, still as humbling as he was when I first saw them years before the hype, still with the same amount of energy and passion. You realise no matter how big they get or how big the shows they play are, Future Islands will remain true to themselves. How many bands can you say that about?