REVIEW — Future Islands Dreams of the Past and Looks to the Future at Mission Ballroom

On Wednesday, Future Islands came to the Mission Ballroom and brought a powerful performance alive with the kind of passion that fills your heart in the midst of love, loss and putting yourself back together. 

Following a high-energy performance from Chicago-based openers Deeper — whose sound is something between Interpol and Bloc Party — Future Islands walked out onto a pitch-black stage to thunderous applause. One thing to quickly note for those who may not know, the Mission Ballroom has the ability to pull out and retract its stage. The full stage is usually reserved for bigger acts with a larger amount of personnel. For this show, they used the full stage configuration, which was surprising given Future Islands’ relatively modest stage setup. The reasoning for this became readily apparent as the band launched into “For Sure,” a powerful ode to lifting up the people in your life that matter most. The lights went up and frontman Samuel T. Herring became pure electricity.

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From the first note, Herring was running all over the stage, completely using the space and ending up drenched in sweat by the third song, “Ran.” He did not slow down the entire show, despite telling the crowd about his unfortunate bum knee. His ability to draw the eye was something truly special, with a way about him that made every individual in the crowd feel like he was singing right to them. He’d reach his arms out wide and throw his head back as he basked in the crowd’s energy, absorbing it and ensuring that his almost frantic movements kept going. His dedication to performance was truly commendable. 

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Throughout, Herring walked an intriguingly fluid line between gender stereotypes. During songs like “Plastic Beach” and “Walking Through That Door,” he’d pound his chest and rip at his shirt and throat. At the same time, his normal crooning vocals would descend into a guttural hell, the picture of stereotypical masculinity. When playing more delicate songs like “Light House,” he’d gyrate his hips sensually in what almost felt like a rejection of the idea of the masculine. A truly interesting dichotomy that accentuated a feeling of inclusion that permeated the show throughout the eccentric, lively performance.

Sometimes during the quieter moments, Herring would look out over the crowd, but it seemed more like he was looking into the night sky and wondering what the future holds. He’d almost seem to be tearing up at the sheer weight of possibility. You could feel the strength of the past, the roads that came before, propelling him out into the night and all it may hold. It’s a feeling that inhabits their music and makes it so powerful. 

Future IslandsAs incredible a frontman as Herring is, the band is the glue that holds Future Islands together and keeps Herring’s theatrics from going too far. Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers, drummer Michael Lowery and bassist William Cashion made the most of their sparse stage setup and filled the room with sound that oscillated between quiet and tender, and rib-rattlingly powerful. For example, they played recent fan-favorite “King of Sweden” as they neared the end of the set and Cashion’s bass felt almost like a punch in the gut, jarring but in a way that fit the show’s mercurial vibe. 

As the set began to come to a close, Herring did start to show signs of being a bit winded, telling the crowd that he “forgot how intense the altitude is” out here. However, they launched into possibly their biggest hit “Seasons (Waiting for You)” and it was as if his energy hadn’t faltered in the slightest. Next, they went into “Long Flight,” during which Herring slid across the stage on his belly like a slip-n-slide, hopped up and then put his whole fist in his mouth just to show that he could do it.  They then played “Tin Man” and “Thrill,” one of their quieter, more heartfelt tunes and the set came to a close. 
Future IslandsThe crowd erupted into a good ol’ “one more song” chant and the band swiftly returned, as Herring told the crowd they weren’t getting rid of them that easily. The band launched into “Vireo’s Eye,” Cashion’s bass sound almost becoming a physical being, wrapping around the crowd and holding it tightly. After, Herring stood as the crowd applauded, basking in it, letting it wash over him. He reached out his hand, grabbed the air, brought his hand to his mouth and acted like he was swallowing something, ingesting the crowd’s energy. This convinced Future Islands to do just one more, and they played “Little Dreamer,” a song that encapsulates so many feelings of joy and rage and hurt and love. The song started as a speech and as the band slowly came in, Herring’s voice turned from talking to singing. When the song concluded, Future Islands thanked the crowd and left and the crowd walked out into the night sky and all its promises.