Having nestled in relative obscurity for years, Future Islands have suddenly rocketed into view from seemingly nowhere. Propelled by an extraordinary performance of Seasons (Waiting On You) on Late Show with David Letterman in the US earlier this year, and an equally startling turn on Later…With Jools Holland in the UK, over the course of 2014 they’ve become the band that everyone is talking about and desperate to see.
Their sudden ubiquity and popularity is a peculiar blend of the Smells Like Teen Spirit moment that caused Nirvana to explode out of nowhere and the slow burn, right-place-right-time circumstance that found Pulp suddenly become National Treasures. It’s a situation clearly not lost on the band. “This time last year we were playing a bar in Hoxton”, announces singer Samuel T Herring, “and now… this is our biggest gig here so far. Alright, I don’t want to talk too much, let’s get into this.”
To the band’s credit, their disregard for their circumstances and their willingness to just get on with playing their music with as much passion as possible is admirable. Launching into Back Into The Long Grass, Herring quickly flashes a select choice of the moves that make him such an intriguing character. He’s a curious mess of Northern Soul kicks, swoops and turns, furious chest pounding belief, and shaky kneed dancehall comedy. If you were to strip away the band, he’d look like someone with paranoid delusions swatting away an imaginary butterfly, because nobody ever suspects the butterfly. Vocally, he’s got a warm timbre, that oozes soul and passion, matching his physical performance effortlessly. It’s only when he growls in a comedic death metal way, that he loses some of his impact.
He provides a magnetic focal point for the band, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from his impassioned and frenzied presence. Yet, Herring’s drive and intensity are not what makes Future Islands such a great band. The keyboards of J Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion’s driving bass are responsible for giving these occasionally sparse songs a dancefloor edge. There’s a groove to the Future Islands that makes songs provide warmth to the chill at the heart of songs like Tin Man. There’s warmth too in the band’s live performance, Sun In The Morning (which gets an early outing here) for example, radiates positivity effortlessly.
It’s there too in the duets that Herring plays out with Celebration vocalist Katrina Ford. The interplay between them is smouldering particularly on the quite stunning In The Fall which makes an appearance around the mid-point. Making no apologies for slowing the pace a little, the band throw in chilled glacial pop of The Great Fire, which halts the dancing feet of the audience temporarily, but gives those that have followed the band over the years something to marvel at. A Song For Our Grandfathers is quite gorgeous too, with it’s haunted, but nostalgic synth pop pulling at the heartstrings beautifully.
All too soon, it’s time for that song. As soon as the introduction to Seasons kicks in, the balcony dwellers stand to attention, and those on the floor dad-dance like their lives depend on it. It seems as if this is what everyone’s been waiting for all evening (hardcore fans apart). The venue erupts, and the excitement is palpable. It’s hard not to be disappointed by the reaction of the audience. Prior to Seasons (which is, admittedly, stunning tonight) Future Islands have been breathtaking and utterly committed but for some, this show is about one thing only: hearing the song that launched the band through the roof.
When it’s over and Tin Man is just starting to creep into life, some are starting to leave, their one requirement of the band sated. Future Islands deserve better. They’ve got a history filled with fantastic songs, a phenomenal front man, and have worked hard for recognition that should, by rights, extend further than short lived hubbub over a song that was on a TV show once. If Seasons tells us anything, it’s that good tunes, powerful performance, and unusual characters can still shake and move people. Hopefully, Seasons will be a launch pad for the band, because on the evidence of tonight’s show alone, they’ve so much more to offer.