Saturday, June 4, 2016
I Don't Need A Place of Worship I Just Revel In the Church Of Future Islands with Sam at the Pulpit
Checking my emails this morning I found a message from a young man who attended a Future Islands show that I shot (on video) at Alex's Bar in Long Beach way back in 2011. Apparently he goes back to these videos often because that particular night is when Future Islands infected him with the madness. It is what front man Sam Herring and the boys, William Cashion (bass and guitars) and Gerrit Welmes (keyboards and programming) do to you. If you have been fortunate to see them live you will feel your eyes grow large and the muscles in your face tense into a deep smile.
Musically their synth pop is sprite and smart with heavy bass lines and dramatic ebbs and flows with thick walls of synth sounds. It feels like a sonic deoxyribonucleic acid hybrid of bands like Depeche Mode, Caja Gugu, Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, Erasure and U2. The U2 element is an important one and not readily comes to mind when you listen to Futute Islands but there is something soaring, anthemic and laced with hope that comes through. As dramatic and engaging the music is ultimately, what give Future Islands their uniqueness and emotional gravitas is the messages buried in the music and the messenger up front himself.
Sam Herring stands alone in the way he performs. His vocal performance has a "too much cigarette smoked" R and B tone that from time to time shifts into a guttural heavy metal growl. He beats his chest, pulls out dance moves that exist somewhere in a nerd universe, stands in poses that look almost classical or Shakespearean as if he is contemplating his place in the world. He gets down on one knee at the edge of the stage and looks right at you, not past you mind you but at you deeply. He connects. Now mind you he has done all this since 2006 and played live shows extensively for years chipping away. Depending on who you talk to the boys toured anywhere from 1 to 5 years straight until the point of burn out and it is those connections they made with all those people who witnessed what they do and were changed in some way who helped propel them forward. What Sam also does is to share pearls of inspiration of simple wisdom when he talks in between songs. He almost feels like a preacher of sorts and his message is hope, hard work and the pursuit of love all the while being damn charming and funny.
And with Future Islands songs love and the journey of life is what it is all about. There is an utterly timeless romantic quality to their songs. Recurring themes are life's struggles, the relentless pull of love, unrequited love, standing by someone through thick and thin, how past experience good and bad shape you and the mere miracle of life. All big and small notions delivered as vague vast imagery. It is sheer poetry for any time past, present and future.
While all the Future Island lovers soaked them in at live shows they did not burst on the proverbial scene until March 3rd of 2014 when they made their network television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman. They performed the song "Seasons" (Waiting on You) and what will forever be know as "that Letterman performance" went viral. It was Sam Herring's vocal bravado and nerdish dance moves that brought praise and some pretty mean jabs too. It must be noted that a single performance of Future Islands is kind of a weird thing. It is like one line out of an impassioned stage play taken out of context. As mesmerizing as that performance might be seeing the boys in total on stage for a whole set is what makes you "get them". They are a band that you get or you don't. They are one of a kind. They are something special. Seeing the band live with a full adoring crowd is attending the Church of Future Islands with Sam at the pulpit. It is powerful, full of love and something you will never forget.
I really like this nearly 1 hour and 20 minute 2014 performance that NPR shot. It is the boys (with touring drummer Danny Bowen) at all their glory. The full show is a pristine look at what they do. It is them on a high and riding on all cylinders. It made me think of when I shot them at that small club in Long Beach, California when they played without a live drummer and the amazing William Cashion not only played bass but also acted as the light guy. Back then they would set up light triggers on stage and William would step on them at the appropriate time. They have come such a long way. Love them to death. Enjoy the NPR video and some time take a gander at the videos I show back in 2011.