Future Perfect: Future Islands Break It Down at the Fillmore

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Future Islands | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

This kinda thing doesn’t happen by accident. A band like Baltimore’s Future Islands doesn’t go from under-the-radar to overnight sensation without putting in the legwork. And while frontman Samuel T. Herring does put in a lot of literal leg-work with his wild dance maneuvers on stage, the band’s path to the huge stage at the Fillmore on Monday evening took more than a fair share of emotional lifting, as well. New release The Far Field (out last month on 4AD) plays out less as a breakup record than a forlorn catalog of Herring’s sins.

With a bombastic legacy of hits and smashing live performances to live up to, a down note might not have been what newcoming and long-lived fans were looking for. But seeing is, as they say, believing. For many, the infamous 2014 Letterman performance remains both introduction and centerpiece of the Future Islands brand. But three years removed, many now know the band — and the bombastic frontman — as something more three-dimensional than simply a great showman. While the dance moves perpetually continue to impress, they seem a little bit less pronounced than the twin sold-out shows I saw at Union Transfer in early 2015.

Even in a room as big and chinzy as the Fillmore’s main room, Herring’s cathartic lyricism still manages to connect on a whole other level. While many people on the back and sides of the room let loose, getting down with their own variations, the majority of the assembly was attentive to the band’s message, first and foremost. Herring’s whole deal has always been that the charismatic performance and no-holds-barred approach to concerts breaks down the awkwardness that many people bring into a concert environment, and allow them to feel something more. With The Far Field, it’s never been more evident that Future Islands’ true promise has always been as an emotional heavyweight, rather than a dance-pop group. And perhaps that’s why they’ve survived the test of time while so many of the sythwave set have passed along into the depths of tolerability and obscurity.

Sonically, the band is as tight as ever — sounding incredible in a space that’s well-tailored to accommodate their throbbing-yet-nuanced instrumentation. Future Islands has just dialed in the songwriting formula to bring a kickass, high-energy performance without straying off the path into either predictability or comfortable blandness. Older, more jittery songs like “Walking Through That Door” still ring solid and true without sounding like throwbacks, mixed in with more even-tempered Far Field material. While 2014’s Singles might have been their so-called “breakout” record, a record full of bangers was never really intended to be the flagship of Future Islands’ sound as a whole, the songs still get their due and stand out in an evening that’s chock full of standout tracks. For a band that could easily still be touring that record, it’s good to see them keeping things relatively evenly distributed among their five records. With a 24 song long setlist, it’s hard to imagine asking for more — after years of hard touring and working it out, the band truly knows how to please a crowd. Personally, I may have liked to see a couple more songs from 2008’s absolutely raw “Wave Like Home,” but capping the evening with tender lullaby “Little Dreamer” was tough to beat.

The release of Far Field indicates that Future Islands is making moves — and making moves. Herring’s dance moves were only ever intended to carry the band so far, and both physically and emotionally the band leaves a lot of the work to the audience. Seeing them several years after the hype-train stage is a great reminder that they’re still a crucially important band, for those very same reasons, past and present.

Setlist
Grease
Aladdin
Beauty of the Road
A Dream of You and Me
Time on Her Side
North Star
Walking Through That Door
Ran
Balance
Before the Bridge
Cave
A Song for Our Grandfathers
Day Glow Fire
Inch of Dust
Through the Roses
Light House
Seasons (Waiting on You)
Long Flight
Tin Man
Spirit
Encore:

Fall from Grace
Black Rose
Vireo’s Eye
Little Dreamer

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