Sometimes, the members of Future Islands must want to pinch themselves to check that this is all really happening. Their story is well known, and one well-trodden by many bands: early albums that received praise but not sales, numerous tours playing to small crowds in little bars followed by an explosion of success. For Future Islands, that breakthrough came with 2014’s stratospheric album Singles – and in support of this year’s fifth album The Far Field, they’ve played at Glastonbury and headlined Green Man festival.
Tonight the Baltimore band are playing the first of three sold-out shows at the Brixton Academy – and for those who don’t know, the venue is an old theatre, garishly decorated in some faux-classical style with statues dotted around. It’s also got a sloping floor, meaning you’ve got a reasonable chance of being able to view the stage no matter where you’re stood (or who you’re stood behind).
It’a a feature that’s perfect Future Islands – because they’re a band you need to see, not just hear. Singer Samuel T. Herring is a mesmerising presence on stage, a pent-up ball of energy prowling and whirling around that you can’t take your eyes off. Things don’t seem to be choreographed, they just seem to happen to him; one moment he’ll be pounding his chest so hard you can hear it in the crowd; the next he’ll be Cossack dancing; and then he’ll be pleadingly holding his fist in the air, reaching out to something only he can see.
Herring’s voice is something to behold, too. If a voice can be described as muscular, then his is. It coarses through songs, accompanied by his famous growls that presumably keep the throat sweet industry afloat singlehandedly, and lets him ripple his emotions out into the crowd.
Unsurprisingly ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ and ‘A Dream of You and Me’, Single’s two big hits, go down best with the crowd. But the 90 minute set straddles all of their albums, with a fair number from second and third albums In Evening Air and On the Water, as well as The Far Field. Of the songs from the older albums, ‘Inch of Dust’ is excellent live, building and building around Herring.
They play a surprising encore, featuring three of less familiar songs. First up is ‘Black Rose’, representing The Far Field. ‘Vireo’s Eye’, a fantastic track from In Evening Air but not one of the singles, sees a disco ball come down from the ceiling and a multi-coloured, bubbling background appear, lending some frivolity to proceedings. They finish on ‘Little Dreamer’, a quiet, forlorn song from their first – and probably least well-known – album Wave Like Home. It worked for me, but it was a surprise that they didn’t finish on ‘Seasons’, or even one of the songs from their latest album.
Herring likes to talk to the crowd, explaining what many of the songs are about. Towards the end he makes what feels like a heartfelt speech about coming to the UK over the years, slowly building up their reputation and going from playing to rooms of 50 to now playing to 5000. He mentions that they’re coming up to their 1200th live show, and it shows: they’re not just tight musically but they know how to work a crowd – and in Herring they have one of the outstanding performers of the moment.
And yes, this was a piece on Future Islands that got to the end without mentioning that Letterman performance. Oh, wait…