There are few bands I’ll take a full can of beer to the face for. So shout out to the guy who threw it from the back of the Rickshaw Theatre, so it smacked me in the bridge of my nose, spilling beer down my top. Nicely done, asshat.
But I’m going to wear it as a badge of honour. “I TOOK A CAN OF BEER TO THE FACE FOR YOU”, I said to an exhausted Future Islands’ singer, Samuel T. Herring, after the show. “DON’T DO THAT ON MY ACCOUNT,” he replied, laughing. And then he starting rapping.
I bet you know a lot about Baltimore’s Future Islands now. I bet you know that they’ve been kicking around Baltimore for a time (where they’re hometown heroes), that their new album is called Singles, and that they became INDIE ROCK FAMOUS precisely at the moment this video for the songs “Seasons (Waiting on You)” hit the speed of meme.
Hemlock Ernst is Samuel’s rap star alter-ego. That’s right, the white guy who looks like a totally cuddly Henry Rollins with piercing blue eyes is also a rapper, and he’s pretty fucking good.
So after the show, when an exhausted Samuel Herring comes out of backstage and is prodded to rap, Hemlock Ernst makes an appearance and treats just four us to a three-minute throwdown delivered with precision (even though Herring complains he’s “too tired to rap well”), and we all just sorta laugh. Because, duuuuuuuude. Samuel T Hemlock Ernst Herring is a bit of a star. And now we all know it.
Flashback to 90 minutes earlier. Herring strolls on stage to kick off “Back in the Tall Grass” to the kind of heroes’ welcome that greets the end of the workday on Friday, or when someone shows up with the keg. Nineteen-year-olds scream, and aging hipsters aggressively nod in the back. Some body surf. Some girls hop the barricade at the front of the stage so that they can get closer to the band. (Guilty as charged.) Most bounce and beam (for tracks like “Sun in the Morning” and “Seasons [Waiting On You]“) “A Dream of You and Me”) and headbang during the weirdly wonderful screams of “Fall from Grace”.”Vireo’s Eye” and “Spirit” causes a frenetic explosion of joy in the crowd.
And that’s because Herring is a rare breed in indie rock. He’s actually a FRONT MAN. He’s not precious, not self-absorbed, not restrained. He’s charisma and wide smiles, and between-song banter. He’s built Ford tough. He’ll sweat for you. When David Letterman burst apart after their TV appearance and yelled: “I’ll take all of it that you got!” he would have gotten a lot, because Herring gives a lot.
And he’s even got signature moves! There’s the pained face, the reaching hands, the sing-directly-into-the-faces-of-your-audience-and-never-waver-in-your-stare approach, the bow-legged boogie-woogie wobble, the invisible duck n’ dodge and the big ol’ dimpled grin – most of which can be seen here in one 15-second clip.
He’s also got a crawl on the ground, sing-in-the-dirt move which at the Rickshaw resulted in front-row girls reaching out to pat his his sweaty head or hold his outstretched hand. During “Inch of Dust”, Herring clenched his fist, and repeatedly pounded his chest, as a spray of sweat came off his BACK. Stardust!
Future Islands are a remarkable thing to see live. The quiet calm of Cashion and Welmers drive the bus, while Herring sits on the top of the roof yelling. And for those who hear us raving, listen to Singles and maybe don’t get it? Future Islands is a packaged deal. There are literally no other bands doing new wave synth pop sung in a classic soul (or Broadway period piece) style, with introspective goth lyrics, that are occasionally punctuated by death metal howls. There are no other frontmen who dance like no-one and everyone’s watching who have rap alter egos and make people want to pet them.
There are no other bands I’d take a can of beer to the face for. You’ve got to see them live. Future Islands, I salute you. \m/
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