Live Music + Gig Reviews

Future Islands @ Electric Ballroom, London

7 May 2014

Future Islands Let’s talk about the bassist, first of all. He’s really very good at playing the bass. He does it very well throughout the show, in a competent, unassuming way, showcasing some fine, funky, hook-y basslines. This competence also served him well while co-writing the songs on Future Islands‘ latest album Singles.

The drummer and keyboardist are good, too – though the latter is positioned so far back you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a roadie.

And that’s your lot as far as those three are concerned, because this is the Samuel T Herring show, and to pretend otherwise would be folly. Singles may be a leap forward and a real grower, but at least half the audience would never have heard it without that The Late Show With David Letterman appearance, that dance, that extraordinary primetime roar. Plenty probably still haven’t.

It’s a situation recognised with commendable good humour by Herring, who observes that this is “our 15th or 16th show in London… it’s your first”. But if they were prepared for a crowd there simply to sate their curiosity, then they needn’t have worried – mere interest soon turns into unbridled enthusiasm as the Dad-dance gets its first airing during opener Back In The Tall Grass.

There are hardcore fans, too – or perhaps some who’ve undergone a Spotify crash course through the back catalogue – and other than the peerless Seasons, it’s tracks from On The Water and In Evening Air that really spark the crowd into life. Tin Man – possibly the most consistently guttural track played today – sees Herring on raucous, rabble-rousing form, licking his arm and flailing around like a demented ogre being burnt alive.

We’re introduced to some new moves – a pelvic thrust and crotch grab during Doves, an unerringly accurate impression of the Jump Around segment from Evolution Of Dance, the universal thespian symbol for “is this a dagger I see before me” – and during Light House, Herring mimes out the rough size and shape of the park bench where the events transpired. It’s sincere, ridiculous, spontaneous, calculated, and wonderful all at once.

Though he’s managed to forge an entirely new frontman persona from the years of struggle in obscurity, there’s something strangely old-fashioned about it, too. Herring’s habit of explaining the meaning or message of each song over the instrumental introductions, in particular, was weirdly reminiscent of crooner’s patter. But his words contain a relentless positivity at odds with the romantic strife in his lyrics, encouraging the “young’uns” to hold onto good relationships, and that ultimately, “things will turn out alright”.

The only misstep in the show is a mildly moody lighting scheme, which in several songs robs the audience of the chance to see Herring’s searching, pleading, anguished repertoire of facial expressions. But when his croaky croon turns into a gargling roar in the Twin Peaks screamo of Fall From Grace, you could turn the lights off entirely and still not dim its impact. It achieves the rare feat of briefly shutting up the natterers at the bar, at least.

Any creative person will tell you that most new ideas are simply old ones, packaged together in new ways. Nothing Herring does onstage is new. He even looks more like other people – Spacey, Brando, Crowe, Henry Rollins, Everton manager Roberto Martinez – than he resembles an original human being. But he’s the only man who’s thought of combining disco-dancing, ethereal synth-pop, and death metal, and it’s starting to make anything else sound just a little bit dull.

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More on Future Islands
Future Islands – People Who Aren’t There Anymore
Future Islands – As Long As You Are
Future Islands – The Far Field
Future Islands @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Future Islands @ Electric Ballroom, London