If it was 2011, I’d say that Sam Herring has the proverbial “Moves Like Jagger.” But it’s not 2011. It’s 2015. Which is the year after 2014—the year that seemingly everyone and their grandmother woke up to the fact that Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring has the moves like Samuel T. Herring. Saturday night, Herring and the Future Islands crew brought the grooves and moves that hallmark their wild style to Union Transfer, for the first of two very sold out shows.
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a 2014 johnny-come-lately Future Islands fan, in the wake of their magnificent album Singles. And based on the fact over the course of 2014 they went from playing one show at the Church to packing out a Union Transfer double-header, I think it’s safe to say that I wasn’t the only newcomer to the Future Islands experience. But who the hell cares, yeah? Future Islands rips, and just because the oldheads have been enjoying them for years doesn’t make that simple fact any less true.
Seeing Future Islands live is like the fully actualized version of the classic #ThingsWhitePeopleLikeToSay phrase “Let’s get weird with it.” Herring drops every pretense of self-respect and gets down and dirty, bouncing back and forth across the stage in one amalgamated dance move after another. It’s like a hit parade of bad dancing that you’d see at a wedding—but not actually bad and just fantastic, instead. The intensity seems almost vaudevillian at times, belying the incredibly serious and cathartic nature of Herring’s lyricism.
While most lines are beautifully crooned in the studio versions of Future Islands tracks, Herring takes his vocal performance beyond the pale, as well. His charming Deep South twang (the band hails from Baltimore, by way of North Carolina) flawlessly drops into a screaming roar seemingly at the flip of a switch. And people from front to back of the packed UT house were getting down and screaming along with Herring, purging pent-up emotions and transcending everyday life through the mysticism of music and the dance.
Working their way through a massive setlist—bordering on two hours in length—Herring and co. pleased oldheads and newcomers alike, playing most of Singles and even throwing in a few special request rare deep cuts during the four-song encore. One of my favorite moments of the night was the run of songs right before the set break. Hearing 2014 summer hit “Seasons (Waiting on You)” into crawling, swelling “Tin Man,” then dropping into heartbreaking personal fav “Long Flight,” and ending with absolute jam “Spirit.”
Even though the performance from the rest of the band was tight, it’s hard to take your attention off of Sam Herring. It’s definitely not intentional, but for better or worse, a Future Islands gig is Sam’s show and they’re just jamming in it. It’s interesting to see that they even set the stage up in such a way as to support Herring’s stagecraft. With Michael Lowry’s drums, Gerrit Welmers’ bank of synths and bassist Will Cashion all set quite far back on stage, they take a literal backseat to Sam’s frenetic antics. They’re a coherent band, but it certainly makes you think about the idea of equity when it comes to the spotlight—both literally and figuratively.
Whether you have been in love with Sam Herring’s sick moves for the better part of a decade, or only the better part of a year, on Saturday night it was clear to see that Future Islands have what it takes to please the masses. With pretty much all dates on this second leg of the Singles tour sold-out (including tonight’s round two at UT; most cities have a pair of shows), it’s entirely possible that we’ll be seeing a third string of dates to ride the current Future Islands wave of popularity—and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Opening the evening were Baltimorean garage-rockers Wing Dam and analogue-synth-poppers Operators (Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade’s new side-project).
Back in the Tall Grass
Sun in the Morning
A Dream of You and Me
Walking Through That Door
Before the Bridge
Heart Grows Old
The Great Fire
A Song for Our Grandfathers
Seasons (Waiting on You)
Give Us the Wind
Inch of Dust