Thursday, May 10, 2012

Future Islands Give Us More Than Just the Wind at Paradise

I've seen Future Islands a few times before but I was still eager to see them headline the show at Paradise Rock Club on April 28th. The band has been one of my favorites for the past two years and they have been steadily garnering fans with their unparalleled work ethic. I was especially excited for this show because of the excellent openers, fellow Baltimore natives Ed Schrader's Music Beat and Boston basement vets Skimask. It's always great to see a band rise to bigger venues and get a chance to give their all to a larger audience. Future Islands did not disappoint; in fact, they were on an entirely different plain that night.

If you are from Boston, you probably recognize the name Skimask. The band has been toiling away in basements and making a name for themselves as one of Boston's captivating musical anomalies. It was a treat to see them move out of the basement and into the club. Most of the noise trio's sound comes from vocal manipulation. It was fascinating watching riffs generated from someone holding three mics and breathing into them while twisting knobs. The drums established an urgent feeling and gave the songs a danceable quality. The singer spent most of the time hunched over the audience spouting half-sung punk anecdotes.

Opener "Underwater" with it's nautical beeps and ingenious chorus of "Every week is shark week when you live underwater" established the feeling that we were watching a punk show in a submarine. The quips in between songs were among the best I've ever heard with the vocalist introducing one tune stating "This is your favorite song. I don't like it, but I'll play it because you do." Skimask have all the elements of classic avant-garde music: confusing vocals that drift in and out of your consciousness, noise from a strange source, and syncopated rhythms. It's tempting to try to dislike it but somewhere along the line you are going to realize its genius.

Ed Schrader's Music Beat is a duo that features Ed Schrader on drums and vocals and Devlin Rice on bass. They seemed thrilled to be playing Paradise, rattling off the names of the great bands that have played there in the past. Each song they played was rooted in minimalism but still managed to be fully enthralling. The songs ranged from melodic pop ("I Can't Stop Eating Sugar") to abrasive noise ("Gas Station Attendant"). Ed Schrader has a great range that somehow had him switching from sounding like Ian Curtis to Jello Biafra. The kit he played was a bare bones setup that he could play while standing and singing. Rice's bass lines were thick slabs of distortion that added meat to the compositions. Most of their songs were around two minutes with the crowd loving every second and responding warmly.

Future Islands came out playing "Give Us the Wind" from their fantastic 2011 album, On the Water. Frontman Sam Herring made sure everyone in attendance felt the weight of each word. He ran around the stage like he was possessed, pounding his chest almost as a primitive gesture to show where the songs were coming from. It was clear we were watching a man exercising some demons. By the end of the song, the performance was met with a feverish applause of deafening proportions. He had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand the rest of the night.

Bassist William Cashion and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers created the lush backdrop and had a modest stage presence that stood in stark contrast to Herring. Cashion did an excellent job driving the music forward with some of the most enchanting bass lines this side of Peter Hook (Joy Division / New Order). The loops and beats created by Welmers are far above your typical synthpop group, and shined especially bright on standout "Inch of Dust" where they shimmered and splashed like the waters on a beautiful beach.

Herring introduced favorites like "Balance" and "Long Flight" by giving the history and meaning of each song, adding to the passionate delivery. His vocals projected the narratives to soaring heights which often plunged into a coarse bark. The highlight of the set for me was when they played "Beach Foam" during the encore. It was the one song I had in my head that I definitely needed to hear that night. The introspective lyrics have helped me through some hard times and the element of physicality Herring added to the emotional upheaval brought it to a whole new level. Going into the show my expectations weren't that high, but I left absolutely floored. Future Islands puts on a theatrical performance that is not to be missed.

The Dig has a great interview with the band that serves as good insight into the process of one of the hardest working bands in music.

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