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LIVE REPORT: Future Islands
Natasha Aftandilians , December 5th, 2014 14:49

Natasha Aftandilians reports from The Wiltern in Los Angeles

The Baltimore-based synth-punk trio Future Islands have been putting out albums since 2008, but you could easily be tricked into thinking that 2014's Singles was their fortuitously titled debut release. Four albums in six years and their star is only just starting to shine bright in the horizon of the mainstream consciousness, thanks to that spectacular performance of 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' on The Late Show With David Letterman. After signing to 4AD and gathering momentum by playing to massive festival crowds and showing up on the cover of magazines, Future Islands might just be the perfect band to use a corporate display like Red Bull's 30 Days In LA to properly step into the spotlight. This is a band that has proven they can excel and impress in any setting, whether at a grubby venue or before a national audience of millions.

With the watchful eyes of the Red Bull logo hovering above the gilded Art Deco stage of The Wiltern, Future Islands get straight to business—abandoning all scraps of self-consciousness, lead singer Samuel T. Herring flashes an earnest, almost childlike smile and tears right into 'Back In The Tall Grass', slowly swaying to the beat until ducking and swerving like a Cossack.

Herring is easily the most charismatic man in music right now. With his balding head and sweat-stained limo driver's uniform, he is the atypical heartthrob. He is, to use a disdainful new buzzword, the 'normcore' rock star. This is a man unafraid to show his blood, sweat and tears, unafraid of being uncool, and unafraid of committing one hundred percent to a live performance. Only he could be so endearing and thrilling to watch as he beats his chest with the vigor of a religious self-flagellant. Without a guitar to wield he has free roam of the sparse stage, and he manages to fill every inch of space with the wild and grandiose gesticulations of a Shakespearean actor, strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. Every move and every word is one grand 'fuck you' to the fashionable poster boys of 'chic' rock and roll, all leather jackets and detached nonchalance with no substance. If Herring's aim is to keep your eyes away from your iPhone screen and firmly planted on the stage for the duration of their set, then he's succeeding.

Of course, this is largely thanks to the dancing; Herring's newly infamous set of moves has inspired awe and admiration (and even an animated 'how to' guide for anyone curious about mastering the art of the Future Islands dance); he's got the enthusiasm and elegance of your drunk uncle at a wedding, high-kicking, pelvic thrusting and throwing his body around the stage like tonight was his last night on earth. At one point Herring's sweat-soaked shirt rips from top to bottom, his left sleeve almost detaching from the garment, but this fact never seems to register with him. Bandmates William Cashion on bass and Gerrit Welmers on keys stick out as noticeable polar opposites to their lead singer, still as stanchions, as if not to detract attention from Herring's stage antics.

Herring's operatic growl on tracks like 'Long Flight' and 'Vireo's Eye' is in stark contrast to the delicate plinking of synth keys and heartfelt lyrics, poetic lines that can get buried under the gruff, throaty screams. On 'Tin Man' he laments with an outstretched arm to his audience; 'You offer all amends in hopes of saving me / You never imagined I could be strong without you / You offer me a branch of peace that bleeds through / The thorns that welcomed me – now speak truth.' Some of the poignancy is lost in the delivery, what with Herring shouting these words from the depths of his soul while slamming his fist on the ground.

After a requisite but soaring performance of 'Seasons' and a celebratory balloon drop the house lights come on and plenty of people shuffle away, kicking empty glasses of vodka and Red Bull along the way. A man dressed in a Tin Man costume, complete with silver face-paint, waits for the expected encore, and is rewarded by the closer 'Spirit,' another electrifying highlight from Singles. Wrapping up over an hour of stage cardio, Herring shows barely any signs of exhaustion– you can't help but admire his physical tenacity and endurance.

Succeeding in music has always hinged on image, and Future Islands have found a way to capitalise on their image as three otherwise non-descript white guys with a lead singer who is genuinely extraordinary to watch. Without his explosive and fiery stage persona, Future Islands may have flown low on the radar for a couple more years. With the high profile comes high expectations, which means Sam Herring won't be hanging up his dancing shoes anytime soon.

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