Future Islands have been making huge waves in the music industry over the past year and it’s a reward well-earned by a band who have been going since 2006. In early 2014 the band announced their signing to the legendary 4AD records. In March of that year, they made their television debut on The Late Show With David Letterman, and with that unforgettable performance, and the release of their brilliant album Singles, began their stratospheric rise to glory. As good as Singles is (featuring on my Albums Of The Year list for 2014), the general consensus is that the band's live act is their crowning glory, and is not to be missed. Well, I didn’t have to be told twice.
Taking to the stage for the second of two sold out nights at Camden's Roundhouse, instead of launching straight into the main act, frontman Samuel T. Herring took a few moments to remark on both the size and the meaning of the evening. Just a year ago they were playing a few hundred meters down the road in the Electric Ballroom, then upgrading to Shepherds Bush Empire in November, before finally finding themselves on their biggest London stage yet.
Choosing to open with 'Give Us The Wind' from 2011's On The Water, it didn't strike me as being an immediate or obvious choice, but just like dipping your toe into a hot bath, it was the band's way of testing and teasing us of what to expect moving forward.
Jumping from there straight into Singles cuts 'Back In The Tall Grass' and the superb 'A Dream Of You And Me', the band's appeal becomes very apparent immediately. Herring moves like a ballerina possessed, gracious and erratic, moving to each beat and his every whim. While not necessarily a style to aspire to, it makes for quite the spectacle. His jarring, off-kilter movement is twinned with vocals that vary from smooth, baritone purrs to demonic pig squeals, the likes of which wouldn't go amiss on your average black metal album. This all twinned with the subdued but precise performances from William Cashion on the bass and guitars, Gerrit Welmers’ lush keyboards and touring member Michael Lowry’s tight drums makes for quite the performance. If it sounds confusing and slightly off putting, then I beg you to suspend your disbelief and watch a video of the band. Hopefully you will soon join me and the millions of others who have been initiated into the church of Future Islands.
Moving on, ‘Balance’ maintains the pace, and ‘Before The Bridge’ demonstrates the band’s ability to write moving love songs, then gifting us ‘Doves’ before delving into some new, as of yet unreleased material. It’s amazing to think that the band have had the time to even think about recording new music, but as their label 4AD’s Instagram shows, they made time to record at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios during their brief stint in London. Tracks ‘Tomorrow’ & ‘The Chase’ were debuted just days earlier at The Plug in Sheffield, and they both sounded fairly polished even at this early stage, but as Herring stated himself "A song isn't complete until it's played live. That's when it's born."
Despite not being able to fault the band until this stage, I felt as if they reached another level during the track ‘Light House’. The crowd recognised that as the cheers and shouts afterward were deafening, causing the band to stop and absorb the moment briefly before launching into ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’, the fabled track that changed their lives (and I’ve included below for all to relive/experience for the first time). This run of songs continued into ‘Tin Man’, ‘Long Flight’ and finally ‘Spirit’, all of which the band were flying throughout.
To say that Sam puts in a shift would undersell his commitment. His every action is dictated by emotion and the history behind the songs. Singles was written about the breakdown of a long term relationship so it’s safe to say that if Herring appeals upset or angry, it isn’t an act – this is his therapy. Sometimes he seems to gaze off past it all, and act out his own soliloquies, whilst at others, he’s clawing at his own face, whilst constantly pounding upon his chest.
"I don't know how they do this every night" one audience member remarked, amazed by the emotional and physical efforts exerted onstage, but clearly they relish in the applause. The question must be asked however, how did they do this for all the years prior to 2014, when the crowds weren't as numerous or as vocal? It’s a mystery, or potentially a miracle.
Fans often feel entitled to encores these days, but last night it truly felt like the crowd earned it. Departing after 'Spirit', the noise didn't subside for a second, everybody in the Roundhouse begging and pleading for the band to grace us with a few more tracks, and of course they did, opening with another new track ‘Haunted’. From there we moved into In Evening Air territory with ‘Inch Of Dust’, and my personal favourite ‘Vireo’s Eye’, a number on which Cashion comes through with a resounding bass track that had the whole crowd bouncing. It felt like the perfect energetic ending to an outstanding night of music, but even at this late stage, Future Islands had their own ideas, choosing to slow down proceedings once more and end with ‘Little Dreamer’ from their debut album Wave Like Home. One of the first tracks that the band ever wrote, it acted as a lullaby for the evening, and set us all off into the night with heavy hearts and weary souls.
Despite the heat, the sweat, the sore feet and the aching knees, I had unbelievable amounts of fun, as did seemingly everybody else in room, but nobody more so than Herring himself, and that's a wonderful thing to see from a performer.
Definitely the best gig I've seen so far in 2015, the North Carolina-come-Baltimore boys have created their own brand of New Wave Ballet, and while I doubt anyone can match them at their own game, they've set the bar high for all live acts to follow.