Future Islands, Electric Ballroom, gig review: 'A striking blend of the macho and delicate'


There were times during this outstanding concert when you feared for Samuel T Herring's layrnx. The Baltimore synth band’s frontman had a way with a growl that was all a bit Frankenstein’s monster, and when he was not indulging in such vocal grand guignol he was piling on the melodrama in other ways.

To see Herring command the attention of an enthralled Electric Ballroom was to be offered glimpses of some extraordinary showmen re-born.

A stocky figure in tight black jeans and tee-shirt, Herring is outwardly no Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, or Holly Johnson, but they were all names that sprung to mind as he threw himself into a performance that was a striking blend of the macho and the delicate, and in which the pyrotechnics were physical as much as musical.

He truly danced his way into the audience’s hearts.

Billy Graham was in the mix too – but for Preacher Herring, the cause to be espoused was that of Love – how to find it, how not to lose it, why not to lose it. In this respect his between-songs homilies and lessons in life reached out almost as powerfully as the music itself. Never can the virtues of self-help have been set to music so thrillingly.

Future Islands are one of those overnight sensations that take years to come about. Originally from North Carolina, they were formed in 2006, and the point was lost on no one when Herring announced at the start that this was the 15th or 16th time that the band had played in London, while noting that for most of us in the crowd, this was our first. Herring took control of the evening at that moment and never let it go.

The buzz that suddenly surrounds Future Islands derives from a performance the band gave on the David Letterman show in early March when Herring made such an impact with “Seasons (Waiting On You)” – the opening track of the band’s new album Singles – that the clip has since been viewed on YouTube more than 1.5m times. That Singles marks Future Islands’ move to 4AD (their three previous albums came out on other labels) has also helped.

Herring was vocalist pure and simple, leaving instrumental duties to synth player Gerrit Welmers, bassist William Cashion, and drummer Denny Bowen.

They operated on fairly straightforward principles – a simple melodic line and a steady beat, and surging waves of accompanying sound which added up to some tremendous, wildly romantic pop. “Back In The Tall Grass” was like a lost Kraftwerk classic, just a bit less spare. “Before The Bridge” carried echoes of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”, likewise filled out somewhat. The mid-tempo “Spirit” showed off the soulfuness that is at the heart of Herring’s appeal. And there were the lovely laid-back delights of “Doves”.

Some uneven-ness in the quality of Future Islands’ material did become apparent towards the end of the gig, but by then it hardly mattered – Herring’s conversion of us was complete.