Future Islands at Triple Rock Social Club, 3/28/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Future Islands
With Ed Schrader's Music Beat
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Friday, March 28, 2014

Samuel T. Herring is to indie rock what Louis C.K. is to comedy. Both men are extraordinary creatives inhabiting the black T-shirted bodies of the everyman. They eschew makeup, glitz, and artifice. Their strength is making us re-feel our own convictions. As they find ingenious ways to floor us with what we already know, we feel like we know them too. In C.K., it's the maladies of everyday society. In Herring, it's the trappings of everyday love and loss.

Herring and his Baltimore-based synth-rock group Future Islands brought their workmanlike stage show to Triple Rock Friday. The band's recent breakout performance on Late Show With David Letterman showed many for the first time how far they could push themselves in three minutes. Here, they attempted to expand that 17-fold.

See also:
Slideshow: Future Islands go wild at Triple Rock

Where C.K. and Herring differ significantly is the way they get their messages across. The former transforms himself into an old, unkempt schlub onstage, and the latter is a swooping, chest-beating gargoyle no longer cemented to the assumptions invoked by his facade. On Friday, Herring cut through the evening air with talons and wings invented with his physicality.

Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers, bassist William Cashion, and touring drummer Michael Lowry proved as understated of a supporting cast as any. Fusing together New Wave nostalgia, more-recent electronica, and avant-rock flourishes, Future Islands' piercing synthesizer notes, quavering bass lines, and beats -- oh, the beats -- locked together tighter with each song. Meanwhile, Herring gradually tore himself apart.
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
With "Back in the Tall Grass" -- a cool, mid-tempo exploration of long-distance relationships created by both geography and time from the just-released Singles --  Herring immediately asserted himself in the room and got right into the faces of the front row. Almost obsessively, he gradually made eye contact with everyone who would have him, and unpacked moves that mixed punk brutality, modern dance theatrics, and the slashing athleticism of a speed skater. All the while, Cashion used a DIY foot pedal to trigger lights bathing his frontman's stage in intimate hues. 

See also: Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring on doing Letterman: That's not as wild as I get

Herring's vocal delivery held impressively strong as he worked himself into a sopping, sweaty state. "Let's get fucking dirty, y'all," he demanded at the outset of 2010's mercurial "Tin Man." As his chameleonic singing darted in to a harsh, gurgling rasp, it was clear that warm-ups for the night were over. The room followed suit and shook their bodies. Like Henry Rollins impersonating Marcel Marceau, or vice versa, Herring alternated between acrobatic lunges and over-the-top miming, and capped the exhibition with a simulation of ripping his own face off.

There were a few breaks in the carnage. "A Song for Our Grandfathers" shifted Herring back a gear, and the slow, minimalist lament proved that the night would not be entirely full-throttle. But it was a bit of calm before the storm via the razor-sharp "Light House" -- heavy on its '80s retro feel. At this point, such a passionate supporting argument was forged that the excitement their current viral-as-all-hell single "Seasons (Waiting on You)" elicited next felt merely on par with what had come before. Sort of One-Hit Wonder insurance, if you will.

Improbably, Future Islands dug deeper still. The beats towered miles above us for "Inch of Dust," and the room felt more like the first few rows of a stadium show as Herring swung his torso violently up and down to the rhythm. "Fuck right!" he exclaimed several times afterwards. His most delectable physical flourish of the night was a bit of sensual butt wagging, a la Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, for the gut-shaking set-closer "Long Flight." The song resounded like Aphex Twin created by humans instead of robots.

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