I had the chance to see Future Islands last year, but it was a chance that I had let pass by. It was a dumb decision; it was a cheap show in my favourite venue, and I don’t remember my reasoning for it being okay that I miss a great band, but it happened, whatever, get over it me. This time would be different though. This time I would meet Samuel Herring after a long flight, and it would be good.
It’s the first time I’ve been back to the Biltmore after an extended non-Vancouver summer, and I was ready to dig my fangs back into one of my favourite venues. Unfortunately I didn’t really think I’d have to sink my chompers into place until 10 for the opener (thankfully I decided to show up at 9:30).
Oh, massive aside; speaking of 10, Future Islands had shirts for sale for $10, which is such a good price that I got two for the price of 1 shirt from almost any other band. If everyone could commit to this low, low price that would be really cool and I’d really appreciate it.
OK, so Watermelon. From Vancouver, they got to warm us up tonight starting with a poppy song with surf-rocky guitar twang in it. With light, lilting vocals, their songs are usually guitar driven and bring you back to more of a chilled ‘70s world. Never heard them before, but the threesome played a good set as people started to file in and fill the place up. Unfortunately, they only played a 30 minute set, so I just never really got enough of a sample to say an awful lot more. My bad, theoretical readers.
So as we wait for the set-up, I might as well introduce the band. From Baltimore, Maryland, Future Islands is another three-piece. With a line-up of frontman Samuel Herring, Gerrit Welmers on the keyboards and apparently doing the programming for the band (providing those sweet, sweet drum mixes), and William Cashion covering all stringed instruments, they seem to have all their bases covered. Although I’m a lover of their music as a whole, the big draw for me it Samuel Herring’s voice. Whatever comes out of his mouth sometimes sounds like it’s been aged with 30 years of smoking, packed full of gravel, and the rumbling of an avalanche. It can be a rough sound that I’ve seen some people compare to Tom Waits and I could see some people really hating it where I rank it right up there with any of my favourite vocalists. The “good evening” he gave at the beginning of their set, followed by a professionally executed evil laugh were a good way to start things off.
They started off with ‘Give Us The Wind’ a song from their newest album On The Water, which is a laid back song supported by his powerful vocals. I also had my view completely obscured by people who figured that decided that since they were the most important people in the room that they should probably be entitled to being complete pricks and kneel on top of stools. So, hey, thanks, I really appreciate not being able to see anything because drunk people decide to be a collective big bag of dicks. If you can’t see, try to find a place near the front, like all those tiny girls that have to get crushed by a mosh pit during a slow song for some reason during nearly every show ever (those brave souls).
They must be working on a new album, since they played one of their newer songs ‘Lighthouse’ which has yet to be put on an album. When I propped my feet up on the bars of my stool, I saw Herring moving around the stage, side to side, looking very animated and attentive to the crowd. I love that kind of thing. Pounding his chest like a mighty beast between songs, they switched up to ‘Inch Of Dust’ from In Evening Air, an absolutely brilliant album. ‘Balance’ is the first single from On The Water, and it earned its place fairly, being at a brisk pace and reminding me why people enjoyed New Wave. ‘Before The Bridge’ kept that feeling going before they played ‘Cotton Flower’ which comes with a 7” with a cat on the cover. Girls love cats. Girls love this song. Simple math.
They then played a song without a name that I quite liked but can never share with anyone, which they followed up with a rather new song ‘Tomorrow’ which is coupled with a second song that wasn’t played that evening, ‘The Fountain’. Hopefully all these new songs will be appearing on a new album because they’re mighty good. ‘Close To None’ slowed things down a bit before Herring started saying that this was the last day of the tour, and that’s when they started to tear into the heart of why I love the band. ‘Walking Through That Door’ is the first song from In The Evening Air, and as soon as that synthy opening started up, the crowd started getting their dance on. A couple girls somehow invaded the stage which seemed to be accepted by the band, although one of them kept knocking around the speakers hanging from the roof near the stage which looked a bit terrifying. They moved right along to track 2, ‘Long Flight’, my favourite song, and that got everyone shivering and shaking. Herring told us it’s a true story, which makes sense to me because it feels like the most real and powerful song on the album. It’s even got a bizarre fan-made video with Japanese rockabilly footage; watch it. Track 3 ‘Tin Man’ was the first single from the album, and had the crowd gyrating more than the last song would have you think possible. It seemed to be the crowd favourite, and even got Samuel Herring to split his pants. Apparently it’s not really a show unless he does. They played another new song and finished up the set with ‘Vireo’s Eye’.
The encore was introduced with a song “about somebody you haven’t seen in a long time; that person may be yourself.” With that, they reached back in the catalogue and picked out ‘Old Friend’ from their first album Wave Like Home and finished up with ‘Little Dreamer’ from the same.
And with that they left the stage. It had been a great show, Herring was one of the most interactive frontmen I’ve seen on stage and every song wasn’t just sung for the audience but directly TO us. He was showing emotion and excitement, and the power that he can put behind his voice was just mesmerising. For being such an underrated band that I’d really not heard much about outside listening to In Evening Air over and over again, there was actually quite a packed crowd in the Biltmore. It was good to see a band with such talent get what they deserved.
So if you like a unique voice singing songs full of emotions with a vocal display of the same, backed up by New Wave-y, (generally) upbeat, well-paced and played songs, then this is something you’ll definitely have to check out. And next time I’ll have to see them without a wall of bodies high-rising into my field of vision.