in the FUTURE we’ll all be living on ISLANDS

Riffing on a joke told by lead singer and guitarist Kuki Kooks of opening act The Fiction Kids, I was struck by the name “Future Islands” as a rather prophetic foreshadowing of the world to come.  As such, the idea that one day we will all live on islands is quite frankly fucking terrifying. Still, tonight was not about fearing for our futures but rather an opportunity to embrace the present and appreciate the return of the beloved Sam Herring led quartet of synth-pop weirdness that is Future Islands.  Before the capacity crowd got their fill, they were introduced to local New Haven act The Fiction Kids.

An amalgamation of members from resident rockers Laundry Day and Ports Of Spain, The Fiction Kids combine Kooks on lead guitar and vocals, Alexa Ambrose on drums and Sam Carlson on bass.  The trio take a shoegaze meets post-punk approach to their songwriting and float between pop and noise from song to song. With an early arriving crowd filling much of the venue well before go time, The Fiction Kids played to a sizable audience.  Initially the band looked timid in front of the large crowd but slowly found their footing and gained confidence with each song. Featuring all new material soon to be released, according to Kooks, the trio sprinted through a 40-minute set of sprawling sonic pop songs aimed at fans of 90’s era shoegaze meets Naught-era post rock.  Kooks said it better than anyone when mid-set he mentioned how “fucking lucky we all are to see Future Islands…” and he wasn’t wrong, we were in for a real treat.  

On March 3, 2014 David Letterman returned from a commercial break liked he had thousands of times before by stating “Our next guest are making their network television debut with us this evening and their new album entitled Singles is in stores later this month.  Ladies and gentlemen we couldn’t be happier to have them here, welcome Future Islands.” But as of March 4th the lives of the four members of the band (Samuel Herring, Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion, and Michael Lowry) was charted for new territory of fame and exposure.  It was one of those moments that had us all on the edge of our seats, couch, or bed given the hour of it’s original airing. At the conclusion of their now seconds old hit single “Seasons” from their 2014 release entitled Singles Dave ranted with an ear to ear grin “Oh buddy…I’ll take all of that you got…Future Islands…that was wonderful…what do you think Paul…I love this band.”  Signed to 4AD for that album it’s not quite the Cinderella story I might be hyping it as but anytime a band of their artistry can find a slice of the mainstream is kind of amazing.  Like many bands riding atop the crest of the wave of success, gravity took hold as it always does and drove them into the sands of reality. So whatever happened to this band led by the ever idiosyncratic Sam Herring?  Well they’re back and as amazing as ever, at least in a live setting.

With the relatively quiet release of 2017’s The Far Field, the band has been busy recording new songs and “testing them out” live in front of an audience to see if they’re “worth anything”.  Coming from a casual listener myself, I can say without hesitation that yes, yes they’re more than worth it. Rewind to the pre-show lineup outside where I queued up to adoring fans encircling frontman Sam Herring who was ingratiating himself early on.  Some fans played it cool, while others offered suggestions, while others still asked unflinchingly for a selfie with “me and my boys”. Needless to say, the buzz had started early and this sold out show felt special from the get go.

Following a solid set from The Fiction Kids, the Baltimore-by-way-of-Greenville, NC four took the stage in the most intimate of sold out shows you could ask for.  Sam Herring, a.k.a. Hemlock Ernst, the rap battle tested freestyling cypher, grabbed the mic and immediately relocated the stand off stage, there would be no rest for that mic or for Herring who had “fucked up” his knee the night before.  Not even injury would slow down the oncoming train of intensity that was Future Islands in 2019. What began with intentionality and self-reflection, playing some new songs and testing them in front of an adoring audience, quickly shifted to high gear intensity and performing for the love of age old fans and supporters. With each chest pounding performance Herring’s dark blue, long sleeved, collared shirt became darker and darker as it soaked up his perspiration.  His forehead stippled with beads of sweat turned into a full on waterfall of perspiration that often found its way scattered into the first row of the audience amid his acrobatics or self-flagellation. On the other hand, the love shared to those within reach was shared with an intimate eye to eye, forehead to forehead gaze or hearty handshake, or even hug to relay the intimacy of what Herring was sharing through his lyrics and music. The impressive lather Herring had worked up over the course of the night was an indication of his emotional investment not only in the songs he was singing but the audience he was singing them to, or at least that’s  how it felt. At times he was even able to whip up some tears when the music mounted an emotional precipice. Though the tears and emotions came and went, they somehow dodged feeling contrived for the moment, which was almost as impressive as the tears on demand.

New songs resonated among the crowd as much as the old favorites.  Among the new included “Hit The Coast,” “The Painter,” “Born In A War,” and “Plastic Beach” which garnered as much if not more applause than the classics “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and “A Song For Our Grandfathers.”  Other crowd favorites included “Time On Her Side,” “Beauty Of The Road,” and “Ancient Water.” With the capacity crowd as sweaty and worked up as Herring himself, the band returned for an encore of “Inch of Dust”
, “Vireo’s Eye”
, and the epic finale of “Little Dreamer”
.  In the 2 plus years away from the spotlight Future Islands have returned with the energy, honesty, and enthusiasm of the days of old and should not be missed live if given the opportunity. The future is now.

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Setlist:

  1. Hit the Coast

  2. Beauty of the Road

  3. A Dream of You and Me

  4. The Painter

  5. Born in a War

  6. Time on Her Side

  7. Walking Through That Door

  8. Days

  9. Birmingham

  10. Long Flight

  11. Balance

  12. Plastic Beach

  13. Moonlight

  14. A Song for Our Grandfathers

  15. Ancient Water

  16. Seasons (Waiting on You)

  17. Tin Man

  18. Spirit


Encore:

 

  1. Inch of Dust

  2. Vireo’s Eye

  3. Little Dreamer