Future Islands | Live Review & Photoset

20th July | Ashton Gate

Photos: Tim Ellis

Having been moved to Ashton Gate at short notice following venue complications, Future Islands‘ Friday night performance seemed to have been engulfed by chaos and confusion long before the band took to the stage. However, whilst the unique experience of seeing a gig in a stadium concourse area proved somewhat strange, there was nothing peculiar about the Baltimore natives’ show, spectacularly exceeding the already lofty expectations.

Opening were Swedish band, Little Dragon, whose gaudy aesthetics proved consistently intriguing without ever being that interesting. Having formed in Gothenburg in 1996 and released five albums since their 2007 eponymous debut, the quartet are clearly no strangers to performing and whilst they exuded constant energy, they failed to capture the imagination of anyone beyond the first few rows of the crowd. As vocalist Yukimi Nagano, seemingly having borrowed her glasses from Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka and draped in Joseph’s technicolour dream coat, paraded around the stage, barking out hits such as ‘Ritual Union’ and ‘Crystalfilm’, it became apparent that the mesmerising lighting was not going to get the sonic equal it deserved.

Future Islands embarked upon the stage against the backdrop of joyous cheers and after a lengthy, amiable welcome from frontman Samuel T. Herring, they launched into ‘Ran’, the exceptional lead single from 2017 album, The Far Field. Unfortunately, technical issues soon hit, with the microphone cutting out from the start of crowd-favourite, ‘A Dream of You and Me’, leading to frantic attempts to attract Herring’s attention and a hearty singalong, broken by a cheer fit for a football stadium when the apparatus belatedly recovered. Hurtling through hits from the recent album as well as 2014’s triumphant Singles, the indie-synth kingpins barely stopped for breath as they carried their adoring fans through sonic bliss.

The mid part of the set was dedicated to the band’s earlier material, with the frenzied ‘Long Flight’ from In Evening Air, followed by the titular track from second album On the Water, as well as ‘Balance’, both soothingly mellow efforts. Refreshingly, a large proportion of the crowd seemed to know each song, word-for-word, despite each one having been released long before Future Islands’ mainstream breakthrough four years ago. They had a determined dedication, a sentiment that was reciprocated entirely through the passion-fuelled performance.

Indeed, Herring’s on-stage antics are truly a treat for all. It is extremely rare for a frontman to possess a trademark presence; Ian Brown swaggers, Mick Jagger struts and Liam Gallagher snarls; however Herring effortlessly engrossed his audience with his every move and word. As accustomed to uncontrollably hurling his body around all corners of the stage as he is to giving a considered speech about the intentions behind each song, the 34-year-old is surely one of the most captivating individuals to have ever graced a Bristol venue.

As the set drew towards a close, the group played their mammoth hit ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’, an irresistible bundle of joy that initially shoved them into public consciousness in 2014. Its appeal dwarfs that of most songs in general, however the band ensure that it doesn’t outshine their stellar live collection, positioning it so that it can display its excellence without defining the whole performance. Finishing with a bouncing rendition of ‘Spirit’ before an encore of ‘Vireo’s Eye’, there was no doubting that despite the unconditional surrounding, Samuel T and co had put on one of the shows of the year.