Sometimes a place develops a relationship with a band that’s beyond just being ordinary attendees of their gigs and listening to their music. To our eternal national shame, we made careers for Josh Ritter and David Gray by becoming strangely attached to their music when no-one else was. It’s not like Future Islands are that much more popular here than anywhere else, but I think both Dublin and Samuel T. Herring are aware that it’s a little different when they come here.
I don’t know what it is. I wasn’t at any of the previous gigs, so I couldn’t really speculate. When the guy said “we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time” he seemed unusually sincere for someone bloating up the home crowd’s ego. I think he was telling the truth.
Anyway, before talking about Future Islands there’s a few other things to countenance. This was my first visit to the Workman’s Club. Seems a decent place. The wooden floor makes a sound when you stamp on it, which is usually a bad omen, but the sound was fine and the size and shape of the place, with no bar in the actual venue area itself, is good. Tentative thumbs up to the Workman’s Club. Not a workman, but if I was I’d be proud to be associated with it.
The next thing: Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands. There’s minor meme status to the fact that they, along with Squarehead, play all the time, but I haven’t seen them in a long time. And they’re different now. Tighter, and any attempts to keep calling them ‘freak folk’ will fall flat. There’s a confidence to them, and their new, meatier stuff, obviously forking off from the last Ariel Pink album in certain cases, is excellent. Also, what we can probably confidently call the Album 2 iteration of the band, even though it’s the same, can’t help but benefit in some vague sense from the fact that most of them have some profile in their own right now – you’re watching Catscars, School Tour and Hunter-Gatherer formed like Voltron, not just the Cold Dead Hands.
One particular high point was the song where Robyn (Catscars) left the stage, watched from the floor, then came back up to do a falling piano version of some dubstep high-end over a huge climax. Paddy and Ger’s duelling vocals, too, brought a new energy. Going exciting places, this Patrick Kelleher.
So then Future Islands. Like I said, I haven’t seen them before. I came to Future Islands on their last album, In Evening Air, with the vague knowledge that they had this live reputation. At first I was confused. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are confused. Here’s this post-new wave synth stuff, vaguely fragile sounding and maybe even saleable if the right whining fringe sang over it. But then there’s Samuel Herring.
Uncanny, is a good word for his voice. It’s one of the knots to untie with Future Islands, the fact that he doesn’t speak like a semi-aristocratic mid-Atlantic school tie old boy. He does sing like one. But it’s so far gone it doesn’t feel like an affectation. It feels like a character, something to transform into to let out all these ultra personal emotions that come through their songs – unrequited love, fucking up, being far away and a lot of other sad things.
I’ve been doing a little thinking about characters as indie band singers lately, apropos Kevin Barnes’ attempt to explain that he’s not roleplaying as Georgie Fruit any more, but it’s still a character. Authenticity is one of the idols of this whole constellation of music, but punk’s not what it was in terms of influence, and the hyper-irony of self-consuming online hipster criticism is seeping into how bands approach what they do. I’m not suggesting that Sam Herring’s being ironic, because he’s probably not. He’s about as sincere a guy as you could find, down to the berserker chest-beating and the preparatory sad face he pulls during instrumental intros while he’s waiting to sing.
But it is still worth noting that, as far as my reading goes, he’s playing a character rather than just adopting a stage persona which everyone does to some degree (except Ted Leo, obviously). It adds a layer of distance between the audience and the performer to a certain extent, but it also makes it much easier on a personal level to engage with. Jamie Stewart rubs salt in his own wounds without the redemptive power of a totem character to project through. He’s hard to watch. There’s none of those moments of sunken stomach empathy and despair with Future Islands, sad as they are. In a sense, Herring and the audience experience the same character, and it’s cathartic for everyone.
This could all be bullshit, but it’s fun to think about. Without any of that stuff, this was a gig par excellence, paced a little poorly but made of great songs, enthusiastic performance and a crowd as open as you will find in Dublin short of the youth crew at their favourite band in Marlay Park. When beats dropped, people bounced. Bounced. Not shuffled awkwardly, but actually dipped in height and returned to their original height in time with the music. That was fun.
Worth not fixing my phone for three extra days. Also at this point a shout out to my cousin whose antics at the last Future Islands gig are apparently ‘infamous’ according to the singer, from the stage, while introducing the song her infamy was cemented during, last time.