For fans already familiar with the Future Islands live experience, this evening’s gig does not really provide any new or unique joys from the Baltimore trio that we haven’t seen before. So what are the standards are we measuring the band by? In a nutshell, this evening is a relentless tour-de-force of emotive synth-pop, led by one of the most dynamic and idiosyncratic frontmen in the business today. In short, this is a model performance by Future Islands, thrilling, visceral and completely absorbing.
Making sure the 3500 capacity crowd are in the mood for Samuel T. Herring’s fervent histrionics are fellow Americans Zack Mexico. Unknown to most, the perfectly synched twin drum setup instantly earns the North Carolina outfit some audience kudos. The band proceed to produce an incredibly kinetic set full of compellingly outlandish songs which morph ecstatically in a whirlwind of organic distortion that grips all and sundry. The energy of their percussive onslaught, including a brief but electrifying double drum solo, is enhanced by thrillingly psychedelic textures generated by three distinctive lead guitars which swirl emphatically amidst John Saturley’s surf rock vocals. It’s an absorbing affair in a support slot which can be so often an unrewarding one. Zack Mexico made sure they were impossible to ignore tonight.
If there is a theme that runs throughout the Future Islands show it is Samuel T. Herring’s humble appreciation of the sold out crowd’s vociferous support for the band over the last few years. Recounting tales of low key performances in Manchester’s tiny club venue, Sound Control, only a couple of years ago, the singer appears to be genuinely beholden to their fans, and he even describes Manchester as the capital of music at one point, which gets a particularly appreciative vocal response. The band’s sudden rise can be attributed to the 2014 album Singles, in particular the opening track Seasons and 2017’s utterly gripping The Far Field has asserted this ascent. It is perhaps unexpected therefore that they emerge to the atmospheric but lesser-known In the Fall. More recent converts are immediately catered for with the driving synths of next track Beauty of the Road. The song is a melodic joy but it’s more subtle structure ensures that Herring’s signature moves are not really revealed until the next track. Ran is more uptempo and more vocally dynamic and Herring feeds on the inherent energy of the song, prowling menacingly one moment and eyeballing the front row the next, as the guttural growls begin to emerge, characterising the intense passion of the song.
Herring’s irresistible stage presence is no longer a surprise but it is still a wonder to behold. Beating his chest passionately during Cave, the strength of the blows can be heard through his microphone and he doesn’t think twice before hurling himself across the stage, skidding to a halt on his chest before wildly jumping back up to scissor-kick through the beat of the song. The spontaneity on display is exhilarating, ensuring that the focus is very clearly on Herring, but it is difficult not to over-emphasise the driving importance of the band behind him. Happy to reside in the background yet producing the melodious vivacity which Samuel T. Herring personifies before us, the band are an essential ingredient to the Future Islands recipe for intense, melodic scrutiny and soul-searching. This overall package is intensified by a wonderfully creative light show providing a multi-coloured canvas which this band adorn in thrilling style.
Follow updates from Future Islands here.
Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto