There are few bands who I’ve been lucky enough to witness multiple times in the past few years who have managed to leave a starkly different set of memories with me following each set. The first time I saw Future Islands was earlier in the year at the Laneway Festival and they wasted no time in burning an image into my head and raising the benchmark for quality live shows I still haven’t seen many bands quite match in the same way. A few months later, I was lucky enough to catch the Baltimore band again, this time in the US, and it was a completely different vibe once again. What remained the same was that blistering energy the band brought to their headline set that was inescapable. People left the venue in an incomprehensible state of happiness, awe and weariness – the best feeling you can have as a live music fan, really. Now, a few months after that show, I stood less than five feet from their stage in Adelaide, ready to see what would unfold this time round.
First up however, we were introduced to Melbourne hip-hop group, Curse ov Dialect. The group recently re-entered the music blogosphere when they linked up with Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring on the track “Twisted Strangers”, highlighting Herring’s rap alias, Hemlock Ernst (for more on Herring’s rap stylings, look up his work with Madlib recently, absolutely fire entertainment). Herring would go on to laud the group with praise during the headline set and well, it’s pretty damn well deserved. Raw, theatrical and incredibly engaging, Curse ov Dialect performed to a sparse crowd early in the night but for those of us who had arrived early enough to catch them, we were treated to an education of sorts. Reminiscent of past shows I’ve seen put on by the likes of Peaches and Das Racist, Curse ov Dialect may have caused smirks and grins with their stage costuming and chaotic presence, but the messages they were projecting pertaining to racism, political and social structures and the like were projected from a brutally real place in the heart. It really was a captivating set that I wish more people had seen.
Promptly taking to the stage at 9:15pm, Future Islands had people draping themselves over the barrier, eager to be in Herring’s presence. Through the 19 song strong set, the vocalist ensured that almost every single person in his immediate vicinity knew he was aware of their existence, whether it be in a quick hand-grasp, fist bump or seconds long stare while singing. It’s impossible to break eye contact when Sam locks on with his own gaze – it’s intimidating but you can’t help but grin stupidly at him, he’s amazing. This was their first proper headline show in Adelaide and also one of their last headline dates for the year; the crowd boos when Herring says the band will be off the tour grid for much of next year, but it’s one of those double edged sword things – a new album is begging to be written. With his Carolina territory drawl, a cheeky smile and enthusiastically upbeat way of carrying himself onstage, Herring doesn’t miss a beat at all throughout the show. As the set progressed and the dance moves became more sweat-inducing, the ride Future Islands were taking this crowd on continued to build up in pace.
Behind Herring, the trio of musicians laying down the music were equally as attention grabbing. I spent a good deal of time eyes trained on drummer Mike Lowry, who kept brilliant pace and locked in excellently with bassist William Cashion who, during a recent chat, had commented on the band’s easy and well-oiled dynamic now, after multiple tours on various stages together. On keyboards, Gerrit Welmers struck an imposing figure himself – concentrated and positioned to the left of the stage, the tall keys-man had our attention all the same too. Of course, Herring’s vocals were a highlight; deep, fragile in places and passionately guttural in others, the man flung himself through the delivery of tunes including “The Chase”, “Fall From Grace” and “Seasons (Waiting On You)” exactly in the way I had expected.
The culmination of Future Islands’ three-song encore left the crowd in a state similar to the one I wrote about earlier in the piece and for myself? Once again, I was left gobsmacked. Each time, the band shows signs of having consistently developed into a stronger live unit. Here’s hoping the momentum continues.