There was an electricity in the air as a rowdy, sold-out Brighton Dome waited eagerly for Future Islands to take to the stage. I was there as a recent convert, having been swept up in the excitement surrounding their performance of ‘Seasons’ on Letterman. It was that performance that made their fourth album, Singles, into a break-out hit in 2014. It was Letterman that let the world know about singer Samuel T. Herring's unique dance moves: totally absorbed in the music, over-flowing with passion. I have to admit, as someone swept up in that viral explosion, I was here as much out of curiosity to see him in action first-hand as I was a fan of the sounds this electro-pop quartet produce. Feeling a surge of excitement as the band's entrance drew closer I was a little nervous that I might be found out by the devotees. My fears were quickly allayed as a couple shuffled into the empty seats besides me and introduced themselves. They were eager to know how long I’d been into the band, and I confessed my Letterman based neophyte status. It turns out they’d discovered Future Islands supporting The Strokes at Hyde Park a mere two years ago, and were completely blown away, becoming quick fans.
Soon the wait was over and Future Islands strode out confidently onto the stage, taking up their positions. They tore into ‘Back in the Tall Grass’, one of my favourites from Singles, and quickly had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands. My little section of the circle was fairly subdued compared to the throng below in the stalls and two devoted blocks of super-fans who filled the circle seats closest to the wings of the stage. These seats were packed to the rafters and everyone in them got to their feet from that first song and remained up and dancing behind their chairs throughout the two-and-a-half hour performance that followed. A few songs in and Sam gave a warm thank-you to local promoters One Inch Badge, revealing that they had been bringing Future Islands to Brighton as long ago as 2009! You could tell from his wide-eyed smile of appreciation as he looked round the ‘beautiful’ Dome auditorium, that this was a group who have a real sense of the journey they've been on to get here. There was a sense of well-earned pride, but also something a little rarer in the music biz: you felt like these guys were genuinely grateful.
When I hear the live introduction I momentarily think they’re going to launch into ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld but, of course, it was ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. This was a huge moment – there was a clear surge from the crowd and the applause at the end sounded like it would never stop. Interestingly though the band didn’t structure their set around the biggest hit, like you might expect, the extra excitement was largely coming from the audience. Future Islands' put as much energy into every single song, whether it was a brilliant cut from new album The Far Field, like ‘Time On Her Side’, or one of their earliest compositions, ‘Beach Foam’, from their début, Wave Like Home, which gets a showing in tonight’s encore.
The band are tight and clever, it feels like there’s very little on backing tracks – the occasional synth pad perhaps, whilst the majority of sounds you hear are performed live by William Cashion’s bass, Gerrit Welmers synth and touring drummer Michael Lowry, who adds an extra dynamic to the songs for the live show. Welmers and Cashion really know what they’re doing, it’s tasteful mainstream pop that sounds like it’s been tempered through a healthy appreciation of 80s new wave music, a sound that’s most obvious in the bass, often reminiscent of Peter Hook’s picked bass from New Order. But also there are a number of times I think Welmers is using a sound that’s come straight from a Kate Bush record, and that's no bad thing. Herring is a tour-de-force, beating his heart with his fist in growing appreciation as the excited crowd give him back everything he puts in tonight. His vocals are unique, there’s a lot more of the guttural, almost metal-singer, growling in the live show than there is on record and he constantly patrols the front of the stage, reaching down into the front rows or reaching out to those devoted fans in the wings.
You get a sense that this connection with the audience, this sense of community is vital for the band which seems to be the big thing tonight, at least for Herring, who is the mouth-piece of the group. The house lights keep coming up throughout the show, illuminating the crowd almost as much as they light the band. Herring breaks up groups of songs by addressing the crowd, almost like a preacher, whipping them up into a fervour, nurturing the kinship and connection that’s developing between the band and the audience. When he says, “We can’t let ourselves be defined by whatever people say we are,” he’s talking to the outsider in all of us – showing how their unlikely breakthrough story can be our own. After a short break they return to play an unprecedented encore that’s at least five songs long. It’s like they don’t want to leave the stage, and Brighton doesn’t want to let them go either. Whether it’s Herring drawing the connection between Brighton and their home-town of Baltimore, how the sea there has inspired so many of their songs; or if it’s just that this is a crowd that really, really seem to get them, the appreciation tonight is mutual and decidedly special. Future Islands exceeded everyone’s expectations, perhaps even their own, leaving us with a night we’ll all remember for a long time and the hope that they’ll be back real soon.
Words: Adam Kidd
Photos: Jamie MacMillan