‘This is our fifteenth or sixteenth show in London … it’s your first.’
Frontman Samuel T. Herring’s opening gambit is delivered with a knowing grin. He is spot on: the recent release of Baltimore-based Future Islands’ fourth album, Singles, would have surely bolstered the fanbase in its own right, but there is no doubt that many of the audience – myself included – are new recruits. Baited by the shimmering synths and chest-thumping theatricality of his recent performance on The Late Show with Letterman, we have come to witness the untameable strangeness of this synthpop Byronic hero first hand. He does not disappoint.
Stockily compact with slicked sideburns and tight high-waist jeans, Herring sits somewhere between Marlon Brando and Simon Cowell on the visual spectrum. As the quavering bassline of Back in the Tall Grass begins to pulse, I am suddenly concerned. ‘How is he going to pull off the demented Dad-dancing in jeans that tight?’ I yell to my friend, over the excited rumble of the audience.
I needn’t have worried. Within seconds, Herring’s knees buckle into deranged side-step, buoyed by the swells of Gerritt Welmers’ synth washes. At once ridiculous and sublime, he delivers a chameleonic set, from the laid-back grooviness of Doves, the minimalist melancholy of A Song for our Grandfathers, to the summery longing of the matchlessly brilliant Seasons. His vocal is extraordinary – sometimes richly crooning, sometimes a corroded primal roar that he seems to tear out of his chest, like a death-metal Tarzan. At first listen, you might be forgiven for thinking him a ludicrous exhibitionist, giddily in the ironic grip of retro-80s alternative pop. But underpinning all the melodrama is an absolute sincerity (‘I asked myself for peace and found it at my feet, staring at the sea’, he sings in A Dream of You and Me). There’s also something wonderfully nostalgic and honest about the way he unpacks the meaning of each song over its instrumental introduction, somewhere between a confession and ridiculous Hollywood voiceover (‘This is a song about standing by a large body of water and wrestling with a question’ he says, while pulling out an ‘Alas, poor Yorrick’ power-fist.) But you buy it all anyway. Every roaring, angsty word of it. There’s too much heart for us not to.