Standing with my back to a doorway in the 88Nine Mind Pool venue I felt a light tap on my shoulder, turning to my right I see a 30-something year old man with a receding hairline, who looks like a mix between a young Marlon Brando and someone you would've seen at a Soprano's casting call. He's grinning so hard that my concern for his face being able to hold his smile without it falling to the floor seems only partially absurd. Jittery like an excited kid about to go down a massive water slide he looks at me and says “I'm excited to see this band!” The fact that the band in which he is referring is the one he fronts, seems irrelevant; he is earnest and his bug-eyed joking echoes the high-esteem he holds his audience in more than anything else. Moments earlier while speaking with a colleague, I struggled to articulate and justify my infatuation with Samuel Herring and Future Islands, who up until this brief moment with Herring's honed playfulness, had left me reeling for appropriate adjectives and hopelessly in love. But as they took the stage for a studio session before their evening concert at a sold-out Turner Hall Ballroom, I realized that what was so appealing about Herring, and ultimately Future Islands, was that the “I think he's a good guy” impulse, that thousands of people sub-consciously had while watching the biggest watershed moment on late night TV since Odd Future did “Sandwiches” on Fallon, was a correct one.
Last night while on stage at the Turner Hall Ballroom Herring was a different animal than the one that pandered to the wide-eyed children and dancing 50 year olds alike earlier in the day at Radio Milwaukee HQ. Dressed in dress pants and a long sleeved red button-up that was soon to be a glorified sweat-rag, Herring turned the venue into a swirling vacuum of contemplation and dancing, of which Future Islands were the convection zone. Herring and Future Islands are undeniably at the precipice of stardom, the room pulsed with that rare, hard to explain energy that concert-goers are lucky to experience even once in their lifetimes. Like Herring's allure and soon to be mythologized antics, Future Islands imminent ascendance to indie royalty is entirely organic; a wonderful story about a group of friends cutting their teeth for years in a relatively small art scene that inspires hope for younger bands and instills a faith in me that a fan driven music community can still get things incredibly right in a time of label manufactured hits and lobotomized pop-stars.
As I alluded earlier, Herring's icon status is so easy to embrace as both a fan and critic because his authenticity and his self-aware humor is able to permeate his brilliantly choreographed character whenever you start to wonder if this is all some horribly ego-driven horror story waiting to end in heroin and super-models. Rock stars are a contrived commodity and they're not going anywhere but Herring seems to have appropriated our cultural disease into a character that emphasizes the art of showmanship without sacrificing artistic integrity. The other members of Future Islands are seemingly aware of how rare this is as well; the way that bassist William Cashion, keyboardist/programming wonder-man Gerrit Welmers and the revelation that is drummer Mike Lowry cater to Herring's stage presence illuminates their understanding that Herring is a rare, essential and beautifully unconventional soon-to-be pop icon. Praise for Herring aside, Cashion, Welmers and Lowry produce one of the more energized live sounds available today. While Welmers fingers dance in the shadows, casting the crowd into a melodic trance, Cashion remains unfazed off to the left with expert bass work as Lowry matches Herring's most emmotionally violent moments with drumming of equal venom.
As Future Islands traversed a catalogue spanning setlist, that lingered on their most somber work as much as it did their highly danceable jams, the stoic professionalism of the band was matched in playfulness and insight by Herring, who indulged us with wit and Grim Fairy Tale-like narrative prologs before each song. Herring's objectively great dance moves pleased the crowd and single-handedly elevated the sexy-ness of the quietly well-dressed, post 30 year old men who up until now have passed through your apartment hallways unnoticed, carrying a decent bottle of red wine and a can of modestly colored paint to redo their bathroom as a Saturday night activity.
As the band was halfway through “Tin Man”, their triumphant anthem for the love battered souls of the world, a young man dressed as a tin man snuck onto the stage unnoticed by the band for a moment that was both my favorite concert moment of the year and the perfect symbol of what Future Islands are all about. As the tin man danced, conscious of the likely-hood that he'd soon be ejected, Herring turned to see him while fully absorbed in his Forgetting Sarah Marshall Dracula song voice, and nearly broke out laughing before pleading “Please don't kick him out. He's my brother.” While further solidifying the fact that these guys are doing this all out of love and passion, it also felt like a victory for all involved because of both parties right intentions. As Future Islands played onward to an eventual three song encore, I took a moment to bask in the glory of our collective victory, thinking about all the reservations I didn't have in calling them the most exciting and rewarding band around today. The best part of it all was that this magical evening didn't feel fleeting, I could vividly see Future Islands continuing with the same grace and enthusiasm for many decades to come.
Photo Credit: Sarah Bill- Turner Hall Ballroom
Photo Credit: Kristy Tayler-Studio Session w/ Future Islands