Between songs at The Chapel’s packed Thursday night show, Future Islands front man Samuel Herring relayed his first thought upon entering the venue, “Oh, we’re going to fuck this place up.” The crowd cheered; and he would deliver on his words. The Baltimore trio (quartet with touring drummer Denny Bowen) has been playing together for ten years and has amassed a loyal pack of fans through energetic, impassioned, leave-your-guts-on-the-stage performances.
That is, Herring’s performances primarily. The placid backing band lets their instruments do the talking; Garrit Welmers’ varied synth orchestration is often euphoric to the point of overjoy, while William Cashion’s driving fuzz bass is a certain catalyst for head banging. The unique combination of sounds occupies the nether region of electric pop and hardcore punk, hitting a sweet spot for an audience that can’t decide if it wants to mosh or get funky.
Herring is the ringleader of this circus—his operatic persona is an arresting combination of extremely affecting gestures and a rich baritone voice that shifts violently from croon to growl. As he sings he stares intently into audience members’ eyes, holds out his hand and may at any time hold up an imaginary feather, thump his chest repeatedly, sway across the stage like an Alpine skier, or slowly rip off an invisible mask and grimace as though it were his own face.
Recently Future Islands made their network TV debut playing “Seasons (Waiting On You)” on Letterman (see below), where Herring terrified and stimulated a confused studio audience, delighted the gap-toothed host, and went viral on Youtube. The performance skyrocketed past a million views and coalesced perfectly with the March release of the band’s fourth album, Singles, their first with label 4AD.
Their performance at The Chapel was no different. Ending a run of ten straight performances, Herring assured the crowd nothing would be left in the tank before the band’s day off. He danced rapturously through Singles’ cleaner, less maniacal material (opener “Through the Tall Grass” and the sappy “Sun in the Morning”), and howled old barnburners “Tin Man” and “Vireo’s Eye” at the top of his lungs. When Herring performs with such conviction and close proximity, it’s impossible not to be riveted.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, the fellow Baltemorean duo that opened, boiled punk down to the bone—just a tom drum, a distorted bass guitar, and two dudes yelling. They brought their own lights powered by footswitches and no one could say they lacked energy or ingenuity.
Though Future Islands may be headed for bigger and greater things, including a spot at Coachella later this month, the band is still down to earth. Herring, in a jacket and cap, chatted with fans before the show and during the encore had people dance onstage. The evening ended with the ballad “Little Dreamer” from their first album Wave Like Home, satiating long-time fans and winning over new ones alike.
-Photographs by Gracie Malley