Watching Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring onstage is a bit like watching performance art — particularly, watching a performance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At the band’s Friday afternoon set, Herring snapped lyrically between the synth-pop drive of the band’s music and brief moments of growling screams, pounding at his chest and the stage or shoving his fist into his mouth, as if to pull demons from his throat to exorcise them.
These actions grew in intensity throughout the set — at first serving as mere glimpses of an alter ego and later expanding into an almost fleshed-out character. At first, one wondered if Herring was simply weird, but as he broke character — sporting a huge grin after taking a spill onstage — the influences of his art performance group Art Lord & the Self-Portraits shines through. The realization that his stage presence is meticulously crafted is a little relieving, but it doesn’t make the band’s performance any less affecting.
In between his Hyde-esque moments, though, Herring was a ball of energy, leaping in great bounds across the stage, leaning out into the audience and body rolling to the whoops and cheers of those in the crowd. Not inherently a sexual figure, he generated his fair share of response simply by virtue of his objectively excellent and strikingly sensual dance moves, moves that exuded a confidence few really have.
The rest of his band, by contrast, stood still and silent in the background of the Twin Peaks stage, in some cases trapped (by keyboards or a drum set), but otherwise not (bassist William Cashion). Regardless of physical entrapment, it was clear from the start that the performance at least is a one-man show, guided by not only Herring’s theatrics but also his gravelly, commanding voice.
That said, Cashion, drummer Michael Lowry and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers produced an admirably nuanced soundscape during the performance, especially for three people. Over the years, the band has distinguished itself in the steadily crowding synth-pop field by hitting on a pleasant intersection of indie rock and pop — synth-rock, if you will — with upbeat tempos and forceful, crooning lyrics. The band’s keyboard lines and drums held all that energy, and seemed to use Herring as their conduit for pumping it into the audience, which happily received it.