Future Islands at Haven

Even before the horrible, tragic hit-and-run last night, Austin was dark last night. I’ve been coming to SXSW for six years now, and while prevalent drunkenness and corporate sponsorships have been a big part of the throwdown for as long as I can remember, they haven’t combined into a terrifying kaleidoscope the way I’ve seen them do for the last few nights. Everywhere you walk, you see various corporations aggressively marketing their shit to you, and you see people so drunk they can barely stand up — if, in fact, they can. Based on what I saw last night, this feels like the year that the corporate party-animal aspect of the festival effectively shoves the music-nerddom into the corner. I saw a lot of good artists last night — Windhand, Sam Smith, YG — but I only saw one group who cut through all that darkness, and that band was Future Islands.

The Baltimore band has been great live for years, but they’ve taken a big leap forward by letting Samuel T. Herring flex a deeply powerful stage persona. Built like a ’50s weightlifter, pale and hearty, in a tight black T-shirt with his hair greased to the side, Herring projected a coiled masculinity that has nothing to do with bro-dom. As seen on the band’s great Letterman performance, his dance moves are strange but heartfelt and unafraid, and it’s an absolute blast to watch him in person. He prowls the stage like a panther, slaps his chest like he was in Madball, does the Night At The Roxbury head-nod with crazy aplomb. His voice, too, flies from piercing theatrical drama-kid wail to death-metal gurgle-scrape and makes it sound easy; I pray it holds up over all the SXSW shows this band will play. Last night’s KCRW showcase was in Haven, a bottle-service club with a way-too-high dickhead ratio, and it was not an ideal context for a band like Future Islands, but they made it work. I imagine they could make just about anything work.

The band’s new album Singles turns its synth-rock throb into something stickier and friendlier than it’s been on previous records, and on the evidence of last night, those songs sound amazing live. If you’re down in Austin, you’ll have plenty more chances to catch them live, and I suggest you avail yourself. If you’re not, they’re touring hard, so you’ll probably still get a chance. Take advantage and see them someplace relatively small while you still can.

[Photo via Instagram]

Comments (12)
  1. I was hoping to hear a positive report from SXSW about Future Islands.

    Here’s hoping that Coachella doesn’t stick them in the Gobi tent because I feel like they’ll attract a lot of curious onlookers when they play this year.

  2. Minor gripe, but I’ve been watching FI since 2009, and have never seen Sam behind a keyboard. They’ve always been this good.

  3. I was there! The set was Sam-tastic!

  4. Hopefully we get another NYC show, because I definitely slept on those tickets.

  5. “Future Islands owned last night at SXSW”… what were you expecting?

  6. We saw them this past Friday at JJ’s Bohemia in Chattanooga, about 100 miles outside Nashville. Capacity was 150, sold out, just pure raw energy. We sat at the tiny bar to the right of the stage, during Wye Oaks set, I was talking to my girlfriend and noticed Sam right behind her getting a beer. As he turned around, I told him ” you guy’s killed it on Letterman”. He was genuinely appreciative, gave me the bro grip finger snap handshake and went on stage. Combine this kind of pure enthusiasm and gratefulness, with their talent, these guy’s are going to the top!

  7. The link made me think that FI had been owned by someone. Like someone had humiliated them by putting on a really good set or something. Anyone else get that impression? Linkbait?

  8. This is the worst band I have ever heard.

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