mon 17/06/2024

Future Islands, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Future Islands, Roundhouse

Future Islands, Roundhouse

Could Samuel T Herring be pop's most charismatic performer?

Herring: shaman-like

It’s been just over a year since Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring famously gyrated, and chest-thumped his way through the band's latest single on American TV. The show was Letterman and the singer looked like a stevedore undergoing primal scream therapy. Within days the footage had gone viral. People have been talking about it ever since.

Not least in the bar before last night’s show – how could he, they asked, possibly keep that up for an hour and a half?

Heaven knows where he gets his energy from but Herring never missed a beat. This was his show. Dressed all in black, the thick-set singer crouched, pounded and gurned with an energy that, at times, was reminiscent of early Jack Black. Yet, despite his exaggerated persona this was no caricature. There were other moments, for instance, when Herring's easy Baltimore manner gave him an almost shaman-like quality. Finally there were times when he fixed the audience with his eye and simply growled like a wise drunk in a bar. And it was bloody great. 

The real dynamics came from Herring's huge baritone and theatrical dancingThe crowd – mainly young professionals, college lecturers and a smattering of hipsters – certainly thought so. There was dancing, whooping and cheering from the off: many clearly knew what to expect. So, for much of the evening, the room was loud with the sound of people singing along – perhaps especially unsurprising given that much of the set came from their most recent album, Singles.

The record, if you're not familiar, comprises 10 subtle twists on a New Wave theme. No wonder then that the band didn't even show up with a guitar.The synths, bass and drum, however, were solid. And, unusually for the Roundhouse, sound quality was impeccable.

The real dynamics, however, came not from the song choice but from Herring's huge baritone and theatrical dancing. This is something the records fail to convey. Live, the man from Maryland was able to modulate his performance such that you didn't necessarily miss the lack of slow numbers. What we did feel was the music and energy gradually build to a three-song climax of “A Song for Our Grandfathers”, “Light House” and “Seasons (Waiting on You)”. The latter was utterly euphoric and brought the house down.

Still, it was strange for the band to leave themselves without anywhere significant to go – there were another eight full songs remaining. So, whilst numbers like “Long Flight”, and “Spirit” were exciting enough, no amount of exhortation to get up and dance could hide the fact that there was little more remaining to equal what we had already seen.

Or not until the very last song. “Little Dreamer” was quite unlike anything we’d yet been offered. It was a lovely, sad, soulful lament. Even after a long, high-energy night it caught the room by surprise. As we left I heard one woman say, given that the band are recording in Abbey Road this week, she hoped they might record more songs like that.

Better still, I thought, maybe they could come up with something like “Pelican Canyon”, Herring’s recent(ish) collaboration with Beth Jeans Houghton. It’s absolutely lovely – like Johnny Cash on a lost weekend.

Overleaf: watch Future Islands' legendary performance on Letterman

There were times when he fixed the audience with his eye and growled like a wise drunk in a bar


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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