Future Islands gave their British fans the show they had been waiting for, says Patrick Smith
31 March 2015
Future Islands are indefatigable. After eight years and four albums, the Baltimore-based synth rockers became a YouTube sensation with an incendiary performance on David Letterman’s late-night chat show last March. Since then, they have played no fewer than 175 gigs across 28 countries – a feat made all the more impressive when you consider the manic intensity of their live shows – and last night they were at the Roundhouse, the first time they'd headlined a UK venue of that size.
To watch frontman Samuel T Herring onstage is to witness something uniquely unvarnished and eccentric. A disco-loving cross between Henry Rollins and Elvis Presley, he thumps his chest gorilla-like, melodramatically clenches his fists, swivels his hips, spins around – sometimes all at the same time – and prowls across the stage with an intoxicating mix of boyish vim and primal menace.
From the first note of punchy opener Back in the Tall Grass, Herring, 31, played the vaudevillian showman in a sweat-drenched T-shirt, his face contorting and pleading with the crowd to react to the soul-baring lyrics. The band didn’t disappoint, either. Keyboardist Gerrit Wilmers’s kaleidoscopic Eighties synths combined with William Cashion’s pulsing bass lines in powerful vignettes about love and loneliness – including the lovely A Dream of You and Me – with such zeal it was hard to believe it was a Monday night.
It’s tempting to accuse Future Islands of dining out on the success of their brilliant latest album, Singles, from which they played almost every track. But why wouldn’t they? Had it not been for its release, they’d still be a journeyman band playing “dry cleaners”, as they put it, rather than selling out 3,000-capacity venues two nights running. Besides, tracks such as the lush, melancholic Seasons (Waiting on You), about knowing when to cut your losses in a relationship, and Lighthouse, with its echoes of New Order, certainly sound mighty enough for a stage as big as this, and were greeted feverishly.
When they did mine songs from their back catalogue, they were well received too. In the surging Walking Through that Door, taken from 2010's critically acclaimed In Evening Air, Herring’s vocals veered acrobatically from delicate and tuneful to a hoarse howl pitched somewhere between Tom Waits and Pixies’ Frank Black. Meanwhile, with its themes of bitterness and rejection, former fan favourite Tin Man – also from that record – felt devastatingly raw.
“I definitely just spilt the f--- out of my pants,” Herring admitted, moments before the encore. Concluding their set with the explosive Fall from Grace, in which you wonder how their frontman doesn’t rupture his larynx, Future Islands gave their devoted British fans the show they had been waiting for. This band really deserve a break – but they’ve got to do it all over again tonight.