No wave like home

by Ryan Snyder

Future Islands and Twin Sister co-headlined a sold-out event at The Blind Tiger.

It’s conventional wisdom that the best sights at a concert belongs to the people who buy the tickets. The closer you are, the better the perspective. It’s just an accepted, seldom argued point. Then there’s the case of Future Islands’ vocalist Samuel T. Herring, and spending a moment in his shoes would shoot holes all through that belief. The sold-out show at the Blind Tiger on Jan. 24 headlined by his Baltimore-based trio was no doubt a surreal experience for the nearly 500 people who came out on a Tuesday night, but it was their intensity, tethered to an entire spectrum of visible emotions, that gave Herring the best view in the house.

Credit Herring, however, for facilitating such an outpouring. If the audience’s electricity peaked during the Future Islands set following a three-hour marathon of excellent indie rock, it was because he willed them there. A stage plot matching Future Islands’ glowing, minimalist synths and palpitating rhythm program left Herring a playground of room to thrash out to the explosive conclusion of “Long Flight,” or engage his audience individually on bended knee to any among their litany of all-consuming ballads. It’s a performance style to which he’s slavishly devoted, and the payoff was evident in the eyes of the barrier dwellers with whom he unflinchingly spanned the artist-performer psychic distance. Some looked on the brink of tears; others, bursting in exultant joy. The rest just watched in stoned captivation.

First glances of Herring are extremely misleading. He cast off the flamboyant white leisure suit and chinstrap sideburns of his Art Lord days long ago in favor or sensible slacks and a plain, button-up shirt, the most notable characteristic being his rolled-up sleeves. He looks like he could either sell you a new cell phone or stand in for Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Off stage, he’s a tremendously amiable, approachable guy. On stage, he’s like an indie rock deity — a Leonard Cohen-style, old-world charmer with the brute, indiscriminate magnetism of Morrissey.

He was a polar opposite from the voice of co-headliner Twin Sister, the Beth Gibbons-clone-with-a wig-collection Andrea Estella, who had settled on blonde hair for this particular evening, though both artists had a way of cutting right to the quick lyrically. It was the classic Venus and Mars scenario: Estella’s pixyish swoon and Herring’s growling baritone both dissected the travails of relationships on the meta level, Twin Sister to the washed-out grooves of the rest of the quintet and Future Islands to the painstaking precision of his ever stoic, shoegazing foils William Cashion and J. Gerrit Welmers.

For all of Twin Sister’s intricacies, this was still decidedly a home crowd. Future Islands’ older songs got the best response — “Tin Man” in particular elicited a wave of ecstasy, and the band earned it. Herring said before the show that their previous Greensboro performances until a 2010 show at Artistika were somewhat disappointing in attendance, though to his credit, they occurred at less-than-desirable venues.

The band’s North Carolina origins have been well-documented, and Herring talked about his history with Greensboro more in-depth from stage, where he revealed that Tate Street Coffee was where he was first introduced to indie rock. He then in turn introduced the crowd to a new, as of yet untitled song, an aggressive number recalling their Future Islands debut, Wave Like Home. As soon as its beat kicked in, Herring took a swig of his PBR and once again turned into the howling-mad enchanter. The day Future Islands plays bigger stages may not be too far off, meaning a widening gap between Herring and his audience. How their act adapts remains to be seen, but until that day, he’s still one of the best front men in rock, even if what he sees every night can never be topped.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan.