Samuel T. Herring, the frontman for Baltimore synth-rock band Future Islands, sings like a lion is eating David Bowie, and he moves like the Tasmanian Devil if it studied modern dance at Juilliard. He’s completely self-aware about this, as he explained at South by Southwest on Friday.
“Hope you got that on camera, because I was doing some weird s***,” Herring told the Mohawk audience after contorting in full body spasms during a performance of “Balance” halfway through the band’s 1 a.m. set. In fact, the first thing the singer said after coming out from the wings was “We’re Future Islands. We like to f*** around. Let’s f*** around.”
The buoyant, highly emotional music is part of the band’s appeal, but let’s be real. The reason Future Islands packs the kind of crowd they did at SXSW 2017 is Herring’s face-slaps, shirt-tugs, chest-thumps, power-points, duck-walks, pelvis-gyrations, gut-screams and that thing he does where he holds up his hand like he’s a Mortal Kombat character who just ripped out Johnny Cage’s heart. That’s why a technical mishap ended up making this set special.
After only the first song, the band encountered sound issues. Herring, forced to stall for time, explained that when such a thing happens, he usually sings a cappella. He made it three-quarters of the way through a gorgeous song (he confessed he forgot the last part), maintaining the same ferocity but allowing the audience to focus exclusively on it for a change. It was captivating, to say the least. People hushed their chatty neighbors.
Once Herring at least had a bass line to work with, he kicked into “Heart Grows Old,” gradually adding back in the drums and synth. At the song’s close, the instruments faded out, leaving Herring right where he began — alone. It was positively LCD Soundsystem-esque.
“That almost seemed like we meant to do that,” Herring immediately joked.
The band got right back on track, powering through a multicolored tour de force of drama and swelling synths, peaking with hit “Seasons (Waiting On You).” But while that catharsis and all the Herringisms that came with it were a promise delivered for the SXSW fans in attendance, that beautiful silence snafu made for an indelible memory.