Recently, no band has captured my attention as much as Future Islands. If you check the 25 most played songs on my iPod, there are at least four or five Future Islands songs listed. I saw them play a 45-minute afternoon set at Osheaga in 2015, and it was pure magic. So, I came to the MTelus on Saturday anxious and excited to see what kind of beauty they would craft indoors with an over two-hour set promoting their latest album The Far Field.
Jenny Besetzt opened to a crowd that initially seemed sparse. Every time I would blink, however, the room would become fuller to the point where it felt like it was at capacity by the second or third song. The four-piece band from North Carolina fronted by John Wollaber (guitar and vocals), draped the crowd in its sombre, moody rock. Wollaber ripped through songs that barely allowed him to stop for breath, delivering his lyrics like raps at points; his deep and sultry voice is comparable to Matt Berninger’s of the National or Ian Curtis’ of Joy Division. Combined with the sullen keyboards of Sara Bell and active, hi-hat heavy drumming of Thomas McNeely, I’d assess that Jenny Besetzt spent a fair amount of time listening to and dissecting Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. “Only” was a particularly memorable song, which had the room buzzing, as well as “Lunar Talks” which showed off the bands slightly more aggressive side.
Future Islands hit the stage right on schedule at 9:15pm. The Far Field was heavily featured early on in their set with the tracks “Beauty of the Road,” “Ran,” and “Time On Her Side” opening up their performance. Herring exploded from one side of the stage to the other, fists in the air as if he were carrying the passion of 400 humans inside of him. He paused between songs to explain the importance of these types of gatherings with passionate, like-minded people and the crowd applauded in agreement. “A Dream of You and Me” got a raucous reception and made it clear that the crowd was still most excited to hear tracks from the 2014 release, Singles.
Herring was intent on demonstrating why he is one of the most captivating frontmen in the business today. Over a sea of rainbow coloured lights, he shimmied, shook his hips, pounded his chest, kicked his legs high in the air, and even slid across the stage on his stomach and all to the crowd’s utter amusement. The biggest cheers though were reserved for Herring’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” vocal stylings, in which he sings as he does on record but reserves an almost death metal (think Cannibal Corpse) guttural growl for certain vocal passages. The latter half of the set got more into the older material with my personal favourite song “Balance,” as well as “A Song for Our Grandfathers,” “Seasons (Waiting on You),” and “Spirit” all from Singles. Future Islands sounded as vibrant as they do on record and Herring was reaching new levels of emotional intensity. If my words are not doing justice to how cathartic Herring’s live performance is, check out this video.
Towards the end of the set, I took to the back of the venue to get a better sense of the crowd and noticed certain members replicating Herring’s dance moves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I regret not joining in. The encore featured a few songs from early albums and just didn’t seem to have the same intense reaction as the songs they played from Singles. Regardless, it was a well balanced and transcendent show, and I will be back each time Future Islands come to town. Hope to see you there!
Written by Lee Ferguson
Photography by Thomas Gentil
*edited by Danielle Kenedy