Monthly Archives: July 2017
Cambridge Corn Exchange (01/07/17)
Cards on the table, I’ve barely scratched the surface in discovering what modern musicians are capable of, but even so, it would take a monstrously detailed and impassioned argument to convince me that there’s a greater living frontman than Samuel T. Herring. And even if such a thesis was presented to me, I’d probably just counter with “yeah, but have you seen Future Islands live?” Because if you haven’t, then you’ll want to amend that as soon as possible. Listen (again) to the swelling, lung-dredging fervour that drives the likes of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Tin Man’. Now imagine the dials turned up even higher; the experience of witnessing such hurricanes of emotional outpouring in person. In the flesh, Herring is much more than a singer: he’s a force of nature, hellbent on reaching out to every single mind and body present in each audience. The man is a dragon.
Future Islands’ show at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (belatedly added to their exhaustive European tour, as the group made the hop from Belgium to Ireland) was surely a treat for all present, but for my sister and myself, it bordered on miraculous. Even given the group’s glowing reputation, we never expected the show to reach such magnificent heights. By the time the ecstatic ‘Ran’ rushed to a close, sweat was trickling from what looked to be every pore of Herring’s face. His forehead was gushing like a spring within the space of three songs, and in the space of two more, his whole shirt was sodden, moisture dripping from his elbows as he threw himself from one corner of the stage to another, his eyes never leaving the rapturous crowd.
Overwhelming perspiration is merely the most apparent symptom of just how much Herring pours into every single performance. Even his now-legendary display on the Late Show in 2014 doesn’t fully capture the extent of his animation onstage. The same fundamentals remained present and correct, but what was more palpable were the deep reserves of compassion and complexity powering those vocals and gestures. Herring pummelled his chest as if attempting to exorcise some great beast from his own lungs. His blazing eyes roved the crowd, locking and holding his gaze for prolonged intervals as he attempted to find a connection with as many individuals as possible. He flung himself onto the stage in belly-flops, leapt into high-kicks with remarkable elasticity, wrapped his mouth around his entire fist. He shrieked and yowled like a man possessed, looming and growling and towering over the audience, turning on a dime from manic to tender and back again, as starry-eyed synth-pop wept alongside him.
It was an incredible spectacle, yet charged with such great nuance and intense personal feeling that there’s no adequate way to do justice to his showmanship. It’s hard to fake such a reckoning of emotion and energy, especially considering that the length of the set stretched to a Herculean 100 minutes. And this isn’t to say that Herring’s bandmates were lacking in panache; William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers, and touring drummer Michael Lowry may have been much more outwardly stoic, but their taut, precise playing kept the show anchored and rich in melody. The sound was crystal-clear; to hear aching gems such as ‘A Dream of You and Me’ and the stunning ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’ take flight was worth the price of admission. Welmers’ keys oscillated between pillowy and piercing as the urgency of the show dipped and peaked; Lowry hammered his kit with the recklessness of a John Bonham disciple, and Cashion’s melodic bass runs gave the night its backbone: the nucleus around which all else orbited. With over 1,000 shows in their wake, Future Islands are a well-oiled machine, able to leap from a simmer to full boil without breaking a sweat (with the obvious exception of one member).
Considering the sheer energy demanded of Herring for even a single song, it was revelatory that the pace of the evening never once flagged across twenty-four songs, democratically drawn from their whole catalogue. A chorus of hecklers repeatedly demanding ‘Beach Foam’ got their wish late in the game (“this is for all you motherfuckers who will not shut up” Herring growled, with a wink), and the scorchingly intimate ‘Little Dreamer’ capped the night with an atmosphere of hushed reverence. When the group finally left the stage – the frontman mopping his whole head with a towel that was surely well-past saturated – the venue still wouldn’t cool, fans pinballing around the hall, attempting to summon from within themselves guttural rasps to match those of Herring. The thrill held in the air like humidity; stepping out into the night was like returning from a different world, shaking ourselves out of a mesmeric funk.
My advice to everybody for whom it is feasible is to go and see Future Islands whenever the opportunity next arises. As pleasant as their recorded music can be, witnessing Herring’s ferocity – and sharing that experience in an audience of exultant fans – is utterly transporting. Don’t walk. Run.
Grease // Aladdin // Ran // A Dream of You and Me // Beauty of the Road // Time on Her Side // Walking Through That Door // Balance // Before the Bridge // Light House // Doves // North Star // A Song for Our Grandfathers // Through the Roses // Seasons (Waiting On You) // Cave // Inch of Dust // Long Flight // Tin Man // Spirit // Black Rose // Beach Foam // Vireo’s Eye // Little Dreamer
O2 Forum, Kentish Town (30/06/17)
In naming Spoon the Perennial Four-Star Band, I am being in no way disparaging. Across a career that spans almost a quarter-decade, the ever-rotating team of Austin indie-rockers have steadily built themselves a reputation as the safest set of hands in modern guitar music. Every few years, Spoon will drop a record that may not blow (or change) minds, but will undoubtedly pop with terrifically tight songwriting, and sparkle with innovative studio wizardry. Within the standard parameters of guitar-keys-drums-bass, Britt Daniel and co. are able to run the gamut from skeletal riff-rock to pocket psychedelia, occasionally souping up the engine with funk, disco, and bluesy modifications, sounding fresh and coherent all the while. Not only is reliability among the band’s greatest assets, Spoon have also turned it into something positively sexy.
As you’d expect from such a CV, and with many years and miles on the road behind them, Spoon do not disappoint when it comes to live spectacle. The O2 Forum in Kentish Town may seem like a modest venue for such stalwarts, but in truth it’s the perfect home for a group whose music has always lingered on the periphery of the mainstream: always too sharp and self-aware to make a grab for sold-out success, but captivating enough to continue accumulating a devoted following as the albums pile up. As such, the majority of those in attendance seem to be disciples rather than casual fans here for a glimpse. In a setlist comprised entirely of bankable favourites, it’s interesting to chart those which receive the most audible adulation from the crowd. In this instance, it’s the crop of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga cuts towards the set’s close, as well as Kill the Moonlight‘s only look-in, the terse ‘Stay Don’t Go’.
Daniel himself is in magnificently fine voice from the first, his signature yowl rising to rebound from the rafters as ‘Do I Have to Talk You Into It’ and ‘I Ain’t the One’ reach their impassioned refrains. He’s a magnetic presence onstage; clad in a skinny-fit suit jacket, seemingly impervious to the room’s rising swelter, his gangly frame and angular features as engaging to follow as his voice is electrifying to hear. Daniel isn’t one for brazen showboating, but he retools the swagger of rock mythology with his deft range of tones; concealing heated passions behind an untouchable cool. At this stage too, his bandmates feel sturdier than ever as a unit. Fairly recent inductee Alex Fischel is now an integral contributor to the Spoon machine, and likewise Rob Pope and Jim Eno prove that it’s the group’s rhythm section as much as Daniel’s presence that keep the show oozing charm and dexterity.
With nine albums’ worth of material to cherry-pick from, every song launches like a firework, and aside from a rather baffling keyboard wig-out following the starry-eyed ‘Do You’, in which all members leave the stage save for Fischel, the set rattles along at a furiously brisk pace, songs snapping into position like Lego bricks the size of boulders. The transition from ‘The Underdog”s jaunty swing to the simmering urgency of ‘Rainy Taxi’, or the breakneck sprint through ‘Rent I Pay’, ‘Can I Sit Next to You’ and ‘Stay Don’t Go’ demonstrate a team of artists operating in near-telepathic synergy, and when they seriously nail a groove such as that of Hot Thoughts‘ title track, the experience is electrifying.
Although such a huge catalogue of work does mean that any set that Spoon curate will inevitably feel lacking in one or two diamonds, after decades in the game, these guys know how to work a room with supreme confidence. Readily surrender your ears, but be warned: they might just take your soul too.
Do I Have to Talk You Into It // Inside Out // I Turn My Camera On // Rent I Pay // Can I Sit Next to You // Stay Don’t Go // Don’t You Evah // Do You // Via Kannela // I Ain’t the One // Anything You Want // My Mathematical Mind // Don’t Make Me a Target // The Underdog // Rainy Taxi // Black Like Me // I Summon You // Hot Thoughts // Got Nuffin