future islands [2011]

Bottom of the Hill
San Francisco, CA
15 November 2011

“Part Middle Eastern muppet” is what my friend responded, when I asked her, before Future Islands’ sold-out set Tuesday night at Bottom of the Hill, what she thought the band’s vocalist was going to look like. (Neither of us had ever seen photos.)

Turns out she wasn’t that far off. Dressed like a middle-aged restaurant proprietor (think Jeremy Piven in business casual), Samuel T. Herring roamed the stage with a near demonic presence, frequently seeking out audience members with his creepy stare.

Herring’s singing voice is commanding and theatrical, a mix of Tom Waits and practically any muppet. It’s quite entertaining and the perfect accompaniment to his physical presence: a frantic continuum of movements, at times wild, dangerous and maniacal. (Perhaps it was just the 80s power casual ensemble, but I couldn’t help but think that his energy may have been powder-enhanced.)

It all somehow works – this bizarre bravado juxtaposed against a synth pop sound. Keyboards, bass and laptop beats were all that was holding Herring up throughout the set, but it was really all that was needed. Anything more might have distracted from what was undeniably the main attraction.

The highlight of the night, for me, was Tin Man (also my favorite song of theirs): it was all blood, sweat and tears. But mainly sweat. Herring had the packed crowd in a frenzy the entire set, but for Tin Man, it got downright frothy.

Regardless of whether it was naturally or artificially enhanced, Herring’s performance this night was truly remarkable. Dark and disturbing. Heartbreaking and inspiring. Impossible to forget.