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Review Fri Mar 28 2014
I began listening to Future Islands four years ago, when a friend recommended them to me as a band he had been listening to quite frequently lately. I hadn't heard of them before, and chose "Vireo's Eye" to test the waters of their sound. As soon as the frenetic guitar strumming began, combined with the bass punctuating the opening chords and a synth backing, I was hooked. The singer's voice was also one of the most interesting I had heard as of late. I wasn't sure if I had heard anything quite like it before. Rapidly transforming from a gruff, hushed tone, to a strong and aggressive shout, Samuel T. Herring's voice is completely mesmerizing: so much so that I continued to listen to this album on repeat all that week, and the week after. I rejoiced when their 2011 release On The Water was just as beautifully crafted as their first and second albums, and was ecstatic to hear their creative album released this past Tuesday, Singles.
The charming aspect of Future Islands is their innovation and growth throughout the years; while some electro-pop groups grow stagnant with subsequent releases, Future Islands continues to morph their sound into one that is more fresh and visionary. They group has been recording music together since 2003, when they joined forces at East Carolina University's campus as they honed in on their unique sound. Singles marks their most fine-tuned and accessible record yet, however it doesn't lose the luster of their initial musical style.
Lincoln Hall found a completely packed house on Wednesday evening for the Future Islands set. Concertgoers eagerly flanked to all sides of the venue, including my perch from the stairs, where I got a great lateral view of Herring's onstage antics. Though I can't say my reaction to their sound was Letterman-esque, my goodness, it was close. Herring appeared onstage engaging in casual banter with the crowd as the band became acclimated with the venue. All of a sudden with the first words he sang, he swiftly transformed, and you could see that the music was not only a professional endeavor for this group, but a spiritual one, too. His voice arched over the crowd with such urgency and passion for the songs created, in that it made the lyrical stories being told all the more compelling. Now, as a music writer here, I clearly go to a lot of concerts. It's been a little while since I felt that extreme rush of hearing a song performed live that literally gives you chills and instills that concert euphoria within you. This Future Islands set was basically an hour and fifteen minutes of sheer musical bliss.
They began the show with "Back In The Tall Grass," off of their most recent release. One step takes me home / Two steps back on my own. Herring sang this haunting verse in a hushed tone, as he danced his way across the stage. They continued with material off of Singles with "Sun In The Morning," a beaming ballad full of big synth pulses. They then performed "Before The Bridge" and "Balance," two songs off of their 2011 release, On The Water, much to the delight of the crowd. From my spot on the stairs, I saw the front of the crowd morphing into a unified section of bodies jumping to the beat, hands outstretched, encased in musical joy. Each rhythm was perfectly synchronized, and Herring's voice never skipped a beat.
As the set wound forward, the crowd only became rowdier. The appreciation for Future Islands only grew stronger, while Herring frequently thanked the crowd for their presence. Even the drunken group of bros standing in front of me seemed particularly invested in the music. "Tin Man" brought cheers from the crowd, bopping along with Herring as he wailed out, "I am the tin man," a favorite off of their sophomore album. They then slowed the tempo of the set with "Song For Our Grandfathers," a particularly heartfelt, languid ballad off of their newest album. The song, though not as ideal for dancing to the beat, is poignant and delicate, showing a maturity present in their sound as they have shaped it over the past decade of making music together. It was a nice drop in the pace for the set, and they brought the energy right back with their newest single, "Seasons (Waiting On You)." Ending their thirteen-song set with "Long Flight," a particularly eloquent song, the crowd had not thinned out one bit, and every person in seemed to be moving to the beat and enjoying their time to the fullest.
Their encore illuminated the mercurial nature of their music; slower number "Fall From Grace" was juxtaposed against "Vireo's Eye" (and yes, it was amazing in a live setting to hear this song after listening to it for the first time four years ago). After this frenetic number, they closed out the show with "Little Dreamer," the final tune off of their first full-length album. It's a haunting song, but Herring's voice is truly able to shine, and it proves that it can do so in any musical arena. I looked around and noticed smiling faces all around as the crowd began to filter out slowly. A special set, Future Islands was able to truly exceed my expectations with their stunning live performance.