If you’ve heard about Future Islands recently, it’s probably because of the band’s performance on The Late Show with David Letterman early last month that made its rounds on the Internet. The band delivered a fervent performance that blew away Letterman himself, who closed his show grinning ear to ear and complimenting the band. Letterman even attempted to turn the band into a meme the next night during his monologue, by intermittently shouting, “Let’s dance!” and showing clips of singer Samuel T. Herring’s dancing again. Bringing those same infamous dance moves, the synthpop group hailing from North Carolina stopped by Lincoln Hall last Wednesday to promote its new album, Singles.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat opened the show with a charismatic garagepunk performance, switching between slow and heavy tracks like “Right” and screechy, fast-paced songs like “Sermon.” The band members paused between their set to joke with the audience, elaborating on their recent travels abroad as well as trips to Home Depot. The band was pretty minimalist—composed of drummer and vocalist Ed Schrader and bassist Devlin Rice—and instead of opting for the venue’s light system it used its own setup of small lights onstage, which band members controlled with foot pedals while they played. Despite having a bare-bones setup, the duo managed to really captivate the audience with its seemingly endless energy.
Future Islands finally emerged onstage and immediately broke into the pulsating “Back In The Tall Grass” from its newest release. If Letterman himself was in the audience, he certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed—Herring gave the same intensity in his performance onstage that the band is notorious for. The group even won the Developing Act Prize at the SXSW music festival last month for the eight performances it gave in four days. The award is given to artists who are breaking new ground with their creativity and show the most promise in achieving their career goals, and Future Islands has certainly been doing that.
Herring’s vocals are also one of the most notable parts of the band; his soulful, deep voice is matched well by the fluttery synths and prominent bass, but every once in a while he throws in what can only be described as a death metal–y growl. It sounds bizarre in concept, but everything about the band is so genuine that the odd combination really works together. Tracks like “Tin Man” and “Inch of Dust” from its early albums make a lot of use of this guttural snarl, which contrasts nicely with the otherwise bright instrumentals.
Synthpop is one of those genres that gets laughed off a lot for its typically lighthearted qualities and heavy keyboards reminiscent of the ’80s, but Future Islands really throws a wrench into those assumptions. As he sings Herring makes gestures as if he is pleading with the audience: He crouches low, clenches his fist, pounds his chest, and reaches out his hand to the sky, which makes the raw emotion that he invests into his lyrics wonderfully tangible. The music is danceable, but still has a serious and solemn quality to it.
The band played new tracks like “Spirit” and “Sun In The Morning” as well as old crowd favorites like “A Song for Our Grandfathers” and “Walking Through That Door.” And no matter where the audience was situated, the band managed to get people dancing. People in the balcony danced furiously during the encore while those at the front of the stage jumped and sang loudly along with the lyrics, patting Herring on the back as he hunched over onto the ground. Whether the audience was comprised of new fans who’d got wind of The Late Show performance or those that had been following the band since its first release, it didn’t seem to matter. Based on its passionate performances and heartfelt music, what lies ahead for Future Islands is guaranteed to be success.