Future Islands release the beast within at Bottom of the Hill

Pub date November 17, 2011

As I retreated from the Bottom of the Hill’s courtyard into the venue Tuesday night, Future Islands vocalist Sam Herring held the door open and flashed me a dazzling smile. As soon as Herring took to the stage, however, gone was the polite Southern gentleman I’d met outside. He transformed into a raving beast that would hold his audience captive for an intensely theatrical and cathartic performance.

Without Gerritt Welmers on synthesizers and William Cashion on bass, the lush, emotional synth-pop of Future Islands wouldn’t exist, but Herring’s charisma and monstrous one-of-a-kind voice made it impossible to focus on anyone else. Herring worked overtime to connect with the audience, gazing into as many eyes as possible while delivering deeply personal and poetic vocals. During “Before The Bridge” from Future Islands’ most recent album On The Water (Thrill Jockey), Herring crouched down and pointed directly to each person in the front row, asking, “Do you believe in love?”

Eye contact was only the beginning. With an expressive face capable of conveying insufferable longing and immeasurable pain, Herring didn’t really need to stalk the stage like a caged animal or pantomime yanking his soul out of his throat, but he did. Though I’m a big fan of On The Water, selections from 2010’s smash hit In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey) were the evening’s greatest successes. During the slow-burning “An Apology” and “Inch Of Dust,” Herring repeatedly beat himself on the chest, resembling Mark Wahlberg in Fear. I suspected a bunch of bruises were hidden beneath the singer’s tucked-in cotton jersey.

Uptempo numbers like “Tin Man,” “Long Flight,” and “Vireo’s Eye” turned the crowd into a dance floor frenzy led by Herring. He threw punches into the air and danced like a member of the Rat Pack on speed. The trio closed its set with “Old Friend,” a bubbly favorite from its debut Wave Like Home (Upset The Rhythm).

The audience wasn’t about to let the band off the hook that easily. The sold-out crowd shouted and clapped until a thumbs-up and expression of sheer joy from an elated fan signaled the band’s return. Future Islands ended the night with a lively encore comprised of time-tested singles. By the time it was over, Herring was completely drenched in sweat, and I was exhausted just from watching him.

Opener: It’s always disappointing to see an opening band that’s a sub par version of the headliner. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat was not that band. With its sole light source coming from within Schrader’s drum, the duo – also featuring Devlin Rice on bass – exuded a dark vibe that was paralleled in its music. It executed an impressive set of short, heavy songs. I’m a hardcore Joy Division fan, so I was delighted to see Schrader channeling Ian Curtis with deep vocals and spooky, trance-like presence.


All photos by Diego Gamez.