Future Islands @ The Fleece, Bristol, 09/04/2014

Future IslandsAfter delivering an intensely unique performance in front of millions on Letterman last month, tonight Future Islands return to the slightly-less public spotlight of The Fleece in Bristol, where a sold-out crowd are waiting expectantly to see if the band, and in particular frontman Samuel T. Herring, could reproduce that sort of performance in person.

As thousands, nay, millions of people appeared out of nowhere to speak of how great it was to see Future Islands finally getting the attention they deserved, it's a little surprising that they were actually a fairly anonymous act up until that performance. And in some ways, it's not that surprising. Future Islands are an odd blend of styles: dance-propelled bass-lines clash with 80s synth and Herring's soul-tinged vocals to create a slightly unsettling brand of electro-pop. But 2014's Singles was their most accessible album to date, with lead single "Seasons (Waiting On You)" spearheading the record and providing the entry point for a lot of fans, myself included, into their impressive back catalogue.

Understandably, "Seasons" evokes the biggest reaction from the crowd at The Fleece. All of the elements that made Herring's performance on Letterman so special were present in this showing too: dodgy Dad dancing, the metal growl and the pained expression in his eyes all making a welcome return here. Yet from opening song "Back In The Tall Grass", this live show is evidently even more engrossing and personal than many may have expected. At times it seemed as if Herring is personally pleading with individual audience members, such was the intense nature of the gig. The venue helps too: small enough for that connection to be made yet big enough for Future Islands to feel appreciated.

Even the more meandering tracks of the hour-long setlist are held together by the irresistible stage presence of Herring. Taking the best elements of frontmen such as Curtis and Jagger yet still retaining his own unique character, this is a consistently beguiling performance that truly underpins the set. You can't take your eyes of Herring and you soon find yourself hanging on his every word, even if some of his mid-song audience chat is borderline cheesy: "If you've got someone special, don't let go of them. I did."

As he introduces 2008 single "Beach Foam", a real highlight of the night, you realise just how long this trio of Baltimore musicians have been plugging away for. Towards the end of the gig, Herring quips that this is their third performance in Bristol - which a lot of the crowd would have found hard to believe - with the previous shows performed in front of "30 or 40 people". Yet when Herring breaks into a broad grin as the 500-strong crowd jump, dance and sing every word of set closer "Little Dreamer", after  a lengthy plea for an encore, you can't help but think that the long and undoubtedly arduous journey to this point has been well worth it. And whether their meteoric rise into our consciousness is temporary or long-standing, it's difficult to think of a band more deserving of this eventual success than one as hard-working and genuine as Future Islands.


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