The Corner Hotel is a neatly hidden treasure hemmed between the Richmond Railway Station and Melbourne’s infamous Punt Road. On a mild Monday night, the crème de la crème of music venues was hosting one of the biggest ‘it’ bands right now.
Future Islands is the band of the moment. It has become somewhat of an enigmatic product with a fully booked world tour, a new album in tow and a singer who could release a Tina Turner-like fitness video if the music thing doesn’t work out.
As I entered the sold out show at The Corner, the line of punters zig-zagged around the venue, reaching the back of platform nine at Richmond Station. The crowd is a mix of both old and new fans, curious to witness the performance of a decade, which catapulted an otherwise little known band to worldwide fame and notoriety after appearing on David Letterman’s show.
As the line eventually subsides, the venue is filled to capacity and there is little room to move, let alone dance, as punters jostle for the slightest glimpse of the Baltimore four piece.
True to form, front man Samuel Herring is wearing his usual unassuming garb, dressed in a tight red stripy shirt and jeans. He looks like any other ordinary guy, modest, down-to-earth and overly polite. He proceeds to thank the crowd several times for coming out the see the show. The other three members seem happy to play the supporting cast to Herring. The bass player barely cracks a smile. The keyboard player doesn’t lift his eyes from the synthesiser. And the drummer is tied to big muffed headphones, as he follows pre-programmed beats like a session musician.
Fresh from their set at Splendour in the Grass at the weekend, Future Islands starts the set with Back in the Tall Grass. Herring twirls the microphone in his hand as though he is a modern day Leonard Bernstein. The band shares his enthusiasm as the kick drum and bass guitar lock in tight like a rugby scrum. This sends punters bouncing up and down as a mosh pit forms at the front of the stage. The crowd is transfixed, singing along to lyrics and living off every keyboard and bass note as though they have joined some strange little cult.
Herring owns the room with his uninhibited persona. His signature punching of the chest gets an immediate cheer from the audience. And within the next breath he is like a delicate flower, talking about love and loneliness, pain and suffering.
Herring conscientiously announces each song as they roll round, and explains what each is about. Songs about heartache, despair, touring and darkness–with each one hitting the right note with the crowd. The crowd goes silent. They feed off his every word. It is his night. He tells the crowd he has been in bed all day, sick with the flu. But he says, “who cares, this is the last show, and I am not going to let you down Melbourne”.
He is on the verge of dethroning Morrissey as a sweet and tender hooligan, albeit only for his stage antics. He swings from sexy gyrating movements to gesticulating wildly as he sings Tin Man from the band’s underrated 2010 album In Evening Air.
Herring has gained much attention for his dance moves, a move that was not intentional but earned him meme-orthy status. The public love his lack of inhibition and in this context, it works. He has an innate ability to connect with the crowd as he stares intensely into our faces. He high fives the people in the front row. He points at certain people in the audience to sing. He is a man embracing the moment. He obliges as several fans scream “Beach Foam, Beach Foam, Beach Foam!”
“This was one of the first songs we ever penned as a band,” Herring jokes. “Let’s re-name our band Beach Foam, but it doesn’t sound right, does it guys?”
Their most famous song comes up, Seasons Change of Letterman fame, and it needs no introduction. Immediately the crowd starts recording the performance on their smartphones while bopping up and down. Who knows, maybe some of them will end up on YouTube, dubbed the second performance of the decade?
Future Islands may never live up to its incredible life changing Letterman performance, but it still gave Melbourne its all. Herring’s sweat rolls down his Baltimore brows. He looks like he has been digging up the Metro train tracks so he can tunnel his way back to his next destination, his next show, and his next exciting musical chapter.