Photo by Tom Hines.
To coincide with their 5th studio album, The Far Field, a pulsating set of modern love songs, Future Islands have embarked on a series of UK dates ahead of a packed summer festival schedule. We caught them at a sold out date in Leeds at the Refectory, which would prove to be more akin to a religious experience than any old gig.
I, like many, was dazzled by the band’s breakthrough performance of stand-out track ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ from Singles on The David Letterman Show. It left the host and thousands of viewers in their living rooms visibly stunned by crooning front-man Samuel T Herring’s emotive and engaging performance, and so the prospect of finally getting a chance to see how this translated into a live setting was a thrilling one. As I arrived at The Refectory, a venue used in the day-to-day to feed bleary eyed students, I was hit by a smell very reminiscent of my primary school dining hall.
As I headed to the bar to fetch a can of warm Red Stripe, I was berated by the voracious chords of fellow Baltimore residents Wing Dam, the support act making their UK debut in this bizarre canteen-cum-music venue set-up. Interestingly, listening back to their music after the gig, I actually came to like the band’s thrashy yet melodic style, despite feeling a sense of complete indifference at the time.
Future Islands arrived onstage to a jubilant and somewhat impatient crowd, awaiting the inevitable outbreak of their unique brand of synthpop, and opened with a stirring rendition of ‘Back in the Tall Grass’ followed by what’ll definitely be a new fan favourite – ‘Time On Her Side’ from The Far Field. This is where we first caught a glimpse of Herring’s animated character, as he threw himself around the stage whilst perfectly reciting his lyrics as the crowd sang them back to him with vigour. The band cruised between tracks both old and new, most of which I knew but still covering plenty I didn’t. But it didn’t matter: Herring sings with such passion that he sucks you in and envelops you into his performance, like being brainwashed by an experimental religious leader.
The set was mammoth with almost too many highlights, including performances of ‘Ran’, ‘Light House’ and of course breakthrough single ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’; but by far the most impressive and engrossing segment of the show was the impassioned encore, which saw the band perform three songs from three different albums. A rampant arrangement of ‘Vireos Eye’ preceded new track ‘Black Rose’. The finale then came in the form of a nod to the band’s early form, forcing them to slow down the pace with a glowing performance of their track ‘Little Dreamer’ from their 2008 debut Wave Like Home. It was a fitting and emotional end to one hell of a gig; I left feeling like a new man, and with the thought that whenever Future Islands are back in the UK, I’ll certainly be back in the crowd, religiously chanting every word back.
Future Islands are touring the festival circuit this summer, including a headline set at Green Man Festival which takes place from the 17th to the 20th of August. Their new album The Far Field is out now.
By Fred Stiddard