Whatever preconceived notions you have about Baltimore-based pop rockers Future Islands became obsolete somewhere around the band’s third or fourth song last night at the Grog Shop. Regardless of what the band sounds like on its albums — occasionally overwrought, melodramatic — it sounded absolutely perfect live.
After quickly introducing himself and his band mates, front man Samuel Herring broke into “Back In the Tall Grass,” one of the sunnier songs from their latest release Singles. “Sun in the Morning,” another track from Singles, isn’t exactly impressive the first time you hear it on a record. It’s good; it’s kind of catchy; it’s reminiscent of the Cure, Kraftwerk and Joy Division. But it’s not great. But when Herring burst into the song last night, and his bandmates solemnly followed suit, the result was incredible. The song became a well-crafted love song complete with edgy, delicious synths and vocals that soared.
Herring is more than just an art school kid from North Carolina. He is a force. Like some relentlessly friendly and understanding older brother, he spoke in platitudes and gave encouraging life advice while sashaying, kneeling and throwing himself at the front row of fans in Ray Bans and cleverly textured oversized sweaters. Herring was honest, warm and friendly, not something you would expect from the bold, oddly voiced man. “Walking Through That Door” is debatably one of the band’s best recordings, and one that they thankfully pulled out last night.
By the time the band played “Walking Through That Door” in the middle of the set, Herring was elaborating on the meanings of each song the band played. He explained the tune is about “helping a friend through,” a noble enough message that's akin to the rest of the “carry on” messages that Future Islands songs tend to have. When the band played “Balance,” a true “song for teenagers,” as Herring described it, from its 2011 album On the Water, the audience erupted, and Herring knew exactly how to react. Beyond articulating every syllable of the tune alongside grand gesticulations, Herring eventually kneeled at the front of the stage, singing directly to the “young ones” that he mentioned the song was for before diving into his performance. When the band played “Before the Bridge,” Herring looked each person who hung so close to the stage and asked, “Do you believe in love?” It was the sincerest moment in a solid, sincere show.