Falling straight after a mammoth weekend physically as well as emotionally and spiritually with the state of the world at the moment, you could have forgiven the Monday night crowd at The Triffid, tucked away in an old aircraft hangar in the urban suburb of Newstead in Brisbane, for being a little lacklustre tonight for Baltimore sensations Future Islands. And yet the anticipation and excitement for a band who have had only a handful of visits to Australia despite their near decade long existence is palpable.
Veteran Aussie hip hop crew Curse Ov Dialect are the lone opening act, though they provide the entertainment value of at least three or four. I… I really have no fucking idea what I watched that night and I think that’s the exact idea. Of the three MCs gracing the stage, one is dressed in a green onesie and Public Enemy t-shirt replete with a Santa hat and full blueface, looking as though Papa Smurf spent a rough day on the couch, a guy in a feathery all black costume and mask (and a white skirt as well) which I think is supposed to make him an owl though I’m not quite sure and the last guy in a costume which looks, for all intents and purposes, that it’s been constructed of garbage bags and duct tape.
They walk onstage and several members of the audience mutter an audible ‘what in the fuck?’, but then the vintage hip hop beats and DJ scratches kick in and everyone proceeds to enjoy the holy shit out of an utterly wild show.
The collective do not stop dancing for even a second, which the crowd absolutely loves. There’s a mystery guest who comes out in a face-covering tear drop mask and a polyester tracksuit straight out of a 90s lost property bin to spit a guest verse at one point. I don’t want to start any wild conspiracy theories but I’d fathom a guess that a certain headlining frontman (who dabbles in a spot of hip hop here and there on the side) is underneath the mask, though if the crowd share in my guess they aren’t really letting on at all. Perhaps they’re still too stunned by the theatrics of it all. The owl drops a rapturously received a capella verse that I’m sure he’s mastered the art of breathing through his ears for, his flow is that rapid and relentless throughout with some touches of an Aussie-accented Slim Shady to my ears. They finish their set in various states of undress and one punter screams ‘You guys are fucking sick!’ over the cheers as they take their leave.
They certainly were.
It’s a short wait in between but the place swiftly turns into a part sauna part sardine tin in the meantime. The lights dim and the crowd roars and Future Islands take the stage in Brisbane for the first time since Laneway last year and since their only other headline tour of Australia back in 2012.
Frontman extraordinaire Sam Herring greets everyone briefly before saying he’s going to shut up now and make some fucking music, launching into Back In The Tall Grass and performing his customary mix of vocal gymnastics and the wonderfully spasmodic and uninhibited dance moves he’s so famous for.
There isn’t much off of their 2014 breakthrough LP Singles that the band don’t touch tonight. They play a heartwrenching rendition of A Dream Of You And Me early as well as soul-stirring and wholly uplifting run throughs of both the grooving Doves and a slow-burning Sun In The Morning.
They don’t shy away from older material either. The crowd is treated to the galloping synths of Balance, an absolutely frenetic Long Flight that builds to a crescendo that doesn’t so much roar as it does shake the foundations of the old aircraft hangar.
There’s a midpoint showcase of their earlier 2015 singles The Chase and a beautifully lilting Haunted By You that delivers with full force on the goosebumps. Sam’s voice is everywhere at once: beautiful, frightening, guttural, raw, melancholic and always full of emotion. He delivers each song like it’s honest gospel from the heavens, gesticulating wildly with every forceful lyric and making sure everyone in attendance not only feels but believes his every word.
His onstage dancing, full of body rolls, side-to-side slithers, darting to and fro across the stage and using every inch of it along the way elicits cheers and whistles in every single song as people around me and myself included wonder how he can possibly keep up these energy levels in such a sweatbox.
And though this is unquestionably Sam’s show, Future Islands sound belongs largely to the rest of the band and they deserve full credit for it: the warped and dance-y synths of Gerrit Welmers providing the canvas for Sam to unleash his inimitable vocals over, the razor sharp navigating bass guitar of William Cashion holding the wheel, the crashing drums of Michael Lowry, a fairly recent addition to the Future Islands live experience, the newfound and wholly organic backbone of it all.
All of a sudden that warm and familiar synth melody pierces through the din, coupled with its counterpart chugging bass line, and the instantaneous rumble of the crowd marks that Seasons (Waiting On You) is due. A song that stirs up so many different emotions amongst the crowd, its unprecedented performance on Letterman the jaw-dropping introduction to Future Islands for so many.
Sam speaks over the top, dedicating the song to everyone in the crowd who has someone they’re waiting on. He says it’s ok to let go before letting go himself and giving absolutely everything to their biggest hit; crab walking all over the stage, beating his chest and pointing to individual audience members, holding the crowd on a string and bringing them up and down like a yo-yo at exactly the right moments.
The whole song is over way too soon but the subsequent emotions running high through the room aren’t going anywhere. Hearing this song again live cut me to the bone and from some of the tears and the jaws on the floor around me, I know I’m not the only one finding extra meaning in its performance tonight.
People would be forgiven for thinking the show is almost over at this point. It’s nowhere near it. They follow Seasons up immediately with a vintage Tin Man, another song with a monstrous whirlwind crescendo and those in the crowd familiar with some of their pre-Singles work screaming ‘I am the Tin Man’ right along with Sam.
Spirit, possibly their second biggest hit from Singles, is absolutely mammoth in delivery as well, with Sam pogoing onstage to the pounding chorus and death growling at frequencies a lot of seasoned metal frontmen would find no walk in the park. They tell us they have just one song left (surrre) and that they haven’t closed on it before, which is when they take their first exit to the howling winds of Fall From Grace, indulging the crowd’s request for one more song and bounding back onstage shortly after.
They then dish out extra songs like candy, running through no less than five encores and the beginning of each one precipitated by Sam saying ‘we’re gonna do one more song’. You trickster you. It’s largely the real old stuff, highlights including a rolicking Beach Foam off of their debut album Wave Like Home and a curtain closing Little Dreamer that stuns the crowd still.
As even a casual fan would be able to guess, it’s less a Future Islands show than it is an experience. Those who were catching them live for the very first time last night understand this now. Speaking to a very excited lady in her fifties outside she tells of the goosebumps and the emotions she felt watching the band and all of the energy Sam put into his performance. When we interviewed bassist William back before Future Islands made the trek out, he told us that the energy of the audience gave them energy onstage, a kind of feedback loop, and this was so apparent watching from the middle of such a raucously appreciative crowd.
I got separated from some of my friends earlier in the show and was told later by them that two people got engaged right in front of them in the middle of the show. I’ve no way of confirming this beyond their Sailor Jerry-infused word, but wow. The crowd at one point parted like the Red Sea to allow a young lady in a wheelchair the opportunity to reach the front of the stage for the last song, which Sam sung an entire verse to her in another beautiful moment.
These moments and shows like these leave you with a lasting feeling; the feeling that you’ve been a part of something special on another level. If you were there last night or you’ve been there before, you’ll understand completely. If you still haven’t, you’re missing out on one of the best live acts of this generation.