Features | Concerts

Future Islands

By Conrad Amenta | 5 May 2012

I’ve written at length about both my love of Future Islands (even if I didn’t love their last record) and their insane touring schedule. It needs to be said and re-said: hardest working band in dodge. I knew that it would only be a matter of time before they came to my hometown.

Some images and expectations of this band I’d formed in my head before seeing them live, which are completely uninformed by any video or live footage, which I avoided for some reason:

  • A rotating and ever-expanding cast of poets and artists, in collective form like Broken Social Scene but with, you know, something to say
  • A catharsis not totally unlike but certainly less intense than Xiu Xiu
  • Paul Dano’s character in There Will Be Blood

I was only a little bit wrong, and mostly about the number of people involved. There’s only three of them, and the music is produced in manner approaching karaoke. A guy pushes some keyboard keys, emitting wash and waves of melody. A bass player plays bass. A laptop takes care of most of the intricate guitar, atmospheric effects, and everything else. I was ready to go all Dave Grohl on them and write some sort of screed about how this minimalism bordered on void.

But Sam Herring. Singer Sam Herring. Holy shit, Sam Herring. Once the crowd got outside of its Ottawa “oh gosh he’s really emotional up there this is awkward” -ness, it became apparent we’d been invited to the man’s nightly exorcism. It felt a little bit special to witness it.

Characters who my friend and I compared the singer to over the course of the show:

  • Tom Cruise in Magnolia
  • Mr. Mistoffelees from Cats
  • The Beast from Beauty and the Beast
  • Meatloaf (of course)
  • Tim Curry as the devil in Legend

Seeing it live makes the breakup themes of those Future Islands records make so much sense. Herring is the emotion at the throbbing center of a niggling hurt that never goes away. I can understand why a relationship with him must be absolutely exhausting. But for one night at least, we all fell in love with him. The first night is always the best.