Future Islands live is quite the experience. For the first-timer, there is the sudden shock of watching frontman Samuel T. Herring’s obscure physical contortions during the performance that are so striking. It’s a truly captivating performance that means the audience only has eyes for one man. Sporadic, convulsing dance moves mixed with intermittent guttural roars within the vocals provide something almost on the edge of caricature. Herring reminds us of his art school background at one point between songs and of course that’s what we have here; an art performance being used to help tell his band’s stories.
At one time he’s miming the act of plucking something from a tree and ‘eating it’, another time he’s theatrically licking the sweat of his own forearm. Just writing these descriptions makes me chuckle at how absurd it all sounds but being there, right in the moment it all makes perfect sense. Every now and then, Herring beats his chest as he sings certain lines; the deep thump picked up on the mic and reverberating around the venue as the pure emotional power of what we’re watching becomes physical. Like an evangelist, delivering his sermon to a sea of followers, the love and support in the room is palpable. The long sustained applause from the crowd after perhaps their most well-known tune ‘Seasons’ is heartwarming to see, hear and be part of. Herring looking genuinely touched by the level of support in the room.
Of course, it’s not all about the stage presence of one man. The rest of the band themselves are placed in a line at the back acting as a complete visual contrast to their singer but equally as important to the overall concept. They create the synth-laden post-punk rhythms that drive each song forward with early marker ‘Ran’ providing the night’s first sing-along chorus whilst ‘Plastic Beach’ sounds like some long lost punchy power ballad form the 80s (in a good way). With no new album currently out there is nothing to promote as such tonight. As a result, we get a range of tracks spanning each of their records as well as a couple of their more recent stand alone singles – ‘Peach’ and ‘King of Sweden’. The latter a melodramatic pop classic in waiting for the band. Each song of the set is introduced to the audience, Herring taking the time to explain where it perhaps came from creatively or reflectively discussing the subject matter. This contemplative mood continues – Herring complains that since getting back on the road, post pandemic he’s ‘gotten old’ – yet it isn’t long before he’s high kicking and lunging across the stage.
After the excellently brash ‘Tin Man’ the band leave to rapturous applause. Of course there’s an encore, the Guildhall clapping and calling in unison for the band to return. When they eventually do, we get the soulful ‘Inch of Dust’ – arguably their finest song on record and sounding fantastic in a live setting – before the evening finally comes to a close with the sublime ‘Little Dreamer’. A slightly slower pace for everyone, Herring included, to come back down to Earth. Before it begins, we get a rather personal and touching account from the lead singer of being a father for the first time and again we’re back to pondering on life. From exquisitely unique dance moves and on-stage theatrics to beautifully soulful electronic pop with subdued moments of intimate reflection.
As I say, Future Islands live is quite the experience.
Photos: Chris Horton