By Will Throp
From cult Baltimore grafters to muscular synth-pop powerhouse, the last two years have been nothing short of seismic for Future Islands. Music Editor Will Throp went along to Newcastle’s O2 Academy to find a genie very much out of its bottle.
It’s amazing how three minutes can change your life – just ask Future Islands. Off the back of that Letterman performance in March last year – surely a contender as one of Late Night’s best ever performances – Samuel T. Herring and Co. were seemingly catapulted into the indie big league overnight. A frightening prospect for some perhaps, but tonight, Future Islands show little by way of concern.
Taking to the stage shortly after 9pm, the band launch headlong into the propulsive bassline of recent Singles cut ‘Back in the Tall Grass’. The relaxed William Cashion lays down a slinking groove that anchors the action immediately, providing ample canvas from which to paint. The opener offers a lyrical ode to memory, charged full of wistful longing for home. It is a yearning that underpins much of tonight’s set, proving time and again to be fertile thematic soil for Future Islands to dutifully harvest.
Against this melancholy backdrop, it doesn’t take long for Herring’s physicality to unshackle itself. The frontman offers one of those rarest of performances, one that truly has to be seen to be believed. His movements are mesmeric – all twisting and trembling, convulsion and contortion. Throughout, he appears a man possessed, repeatedly beating his chest in tribal defiance. Set against the cool placidity of the rest of the band, Herring is given the perfect platform from which to wring every last drop of meaning from the band’s back catalogue – he grasps the opportunity with both hands.
It is this controlled contrast in dynamic that underpins much of the band’s best work. Whether it be their deep cuts (rarities ‘An Apology’ and ‘Walking Through That Door’ get an airing tonight) or their more recent material, there is a crafted ebb and flow here that can only be achieved after years of toil on the road. A good band has different gears, but a great band knows exactly when to use them – tonight, Future Islands prove precisely which category they fall into.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Herring’s vocal delivery, which oscillates throughout between whispered nothing and guttural roar. The control exhibited between the two is dynamite; indicative of Future Islands’ wholesome capacity to truly harness the power that sets them apart from their contemporaries.
The climax of the set is, of course, a triumphant ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. The crowd respond to the soaring chorus with flailing limbs and raucous voices, rising up throughout the venue in cacophonous accord. Herring offers it right back, his brow now soaked in sweat. The band return for an encore that culminates in little known Wave Like Home offering ‘Little Dreamer’. All swirling synth and twitching beat, it brings proceedings to a fitting end – in Herring’s words, “a song to go out into the night to”.
David Letterman remarked at the end of that now infamous appearance on the Late Night Show, “I’ll take all of that you got!”. On tonight’s evidence, it would be hard to disagree.
Photograph: Billions Roster