By David Courtright
Somehow this was my first experience at 529. I’ve seen the gory insides of most of the dive bars and music joints in this town, but for one reason or another, this was my maiden voyage into the cramped, smoky, and entirely magical world that is 529. As previously mentioned, Future Islands have made quite an impact on me. So it was nothing but a delight that my first experience at this place was with them.
Just before Future Islands’ set, which was preceded by a bizarre polka band, a rockin’ drums and vocals duo (tour-mates and old friends of Future Islands’, EAR PWR), and a Daft Punk-derived team of space cadets hurling glow sticks and samples into the crowd, I went to the bar for a pre-show cocktail. When I turned around, I came face-to-face with the charismatic and boy-eyed lead singer of Future Islands, Samuel Herring, who smiled wide and asked in a loud growl to fight the din, “How we feeling?” Never better, I replied.
I stood front and center for the show. Just before beginning, Sam prepared by slapping himself over and over again on the chest – perhaps a preshow ritual, or perhaps his transformation from bubbly outgoing extrovert to fully entranced performer. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, he was entering into an entirely different persona – perhaps a more primal, more esoteric self. And I was, admittedly, intimidated – he looked like a silverback ready to charge. When the music started, the loud and distracting world fell away, and the music took control.
One would think that the intimacy and subtlety the band achieved on In Evening Air (the full-length album the band supports on this tour) was a resolutely studio affair, and that such a feeling would be difficult to recreate in a live setting. Herring has said that they are much more of a live band, and that recreating that in the studio was the most difficult part. Turns out they can do both: Future Islands put on an effortlessly magnetic, truly awe-inspiring show.
The gravitas of lead singer Herring’s performance cannot be overstated. From the very beginning, his lyrics, which on tape are vulnerable while being simultaneously courageous, become explosive tirades. He enacts the hurt and longing of his songs, ducking and lunging into the meat of them, contorting his face and voice to reach inside them and bring forth a depth of meaning that surpasses the listener’s own relationship with the songs. He at once defines the songs as entirely his, while handing over the secret as to why they are also entirely yours. Before the end of the first song, he was drenched in sweat and the front two rows had been anointed with Future Island saliva. And we danced. Oh, how we danced.
The most meaningful part of the evening, aside from my mind being entirely blown by an underground and very exciting act, was the hour-long conversation I had with Sam after the show. I asked why an act like theirs, that seemed to be gathering steam very quickly, didn’t play somewhere like The EARL, somewhere more on the national radar. He said it was far more important to them to keep up relationships with the people that have made them who they are, to honor those who gave them the stage in the past, and in doing so, to grow slowly, person by person. For them success is something they are in no hurry of rushing towards without due merit. To paraphrase: we love what we do, we love who we are, and we want that seed to grow in the hearts of others, for them to come to us on their own terms. Here’s to that.