A band chip away for years and finally make the breakthrough album, then, with a little help from five minutes of TV gold on Letterman, they are almost a household name. And as the band tour the rest of the world, Ireland has to wait its turn patiently (with State getting a sneak preview at Roskilde this year). Then two sold-out nights in the ideal surroundings of Vicar St and we end up in the eye of the perfect storm. Sweat drenched and palms-up – they were not gigs you went to, they were something to throw yourself at.
Samuel T. Herring is the bear rug in an otherwise austere room. The thing you can’t not look at as the band behind him, tight and note-perfect, are happy to blend in to the backdrop, opening up the literal and metaphorical space for Sam to be himself all over the front of the stage. On paper this commanding of attention could be taken up wrong, but the humbleness and genuine feeling that Sam channels through his body often says more than the lyrics. This guy is 4 Real, without needing to carve it into his arm with a blade to prove it.
Over the night there will be plenty of variation from that breakthrough album Singles, and the best picks from the preceding albums will appear throughout. They open with ‘Give us the Wind’ from On the Water immediately making this second night feel special by saying they hadn’t played this track the night before. At the first glimpses of Sam’s almost patented dancing the cheers go up but once the gig settles in the reactions become, thankfully, more about the songs.
As the more recognisable songs from Singles appear there’s visibly more movement from the masses and the band are feeding off it too. As lost as Herring gets during the songs, he’s back and charming between, bigging up Dublin like a pro. No method actor he. Within five songs he is drenched in sweat, his right hand thumping his heart and then reaching out as if pleading for understanding from both the crowd and the sky.
Katrina Ford from support band Celebration joins for the first time on the tour to second the vocals on ‘Doves’ and wisely stays out of the way of Herring’s boundless gait. Almost all songs are introduced with an explanation, and though many are muffled, it just becomes another purging of honesty and it becomes very easy to see yourself and Sam sitting down for a pint and shooting the shit about life. That’s how he makes you feel. Like you’re never looking up. And ‘A Song for our Grandfathers’ flows perfectly from this.
Then we wind it up to wind it down. The knee-troubling ‘Light House’ leads to a song that needs no intro, but we get one anyhow, and like cramming Christmas into four minutes ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ ignites everyone. You can even imagine them dancing in the flats outside the venue.
And yet they push on, on through the highs of ‘Spirit’ and a four song encore to see us out. Honesty to the core, humble and committed to the way these songs course through him on their way out Herring is a modern hero. A poster boy for truth, a giver not a taker and, as a unit, Future Islands have coated us all in the blood and sweat of their endeavours on a night that should cling to us like the shirt on Samuel T. Herring’s back.
Future Islands photographed for State by Mark McGuinness.