Future Islands, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
The Tin Roof
Jan. 25

In the words of a friend who accompanied me, there was a lot of “minimalist white girl dancing” going on at the Future Islands show at the Tin Roof. And all that dancing was for good reason; the Baltimore band, led by magnetic lead singer Sam Herring, definitely brought the house down with their take on “post-wave” synth rock.

Apparently I was the only person there with only a passing familiarity with the band; most of the attendees that filled the venue seemed to be die-hards hailing from Future Islands’ first days as a house-show staple. Herring reiterated his love for the people of Charleston and even made reference to the band’s last show in town at the now-defunct Outer Space, which may be a testament to exactly how far they’ve come since the trio last visited the Holy City.

Without a doubt, Herring’s onstage presence stole the show. It’s obvious that he’s acutely aware of how to work a crowd, and he takes advantage of every opportunity to get physical, if not a little bit dramatic. With no instrument in hand, he was free to dance around the stage, grab his hair, punch the floor, and absolutely sing his heart out on songs like “Balance,” “Before the Bridge,” and “Walking through that Door.” If it wasn’t so apparent through the smile on his face after every song that Herring was absolutely sincere in these efforts, I might have chastised his antics for toeing the line between theatrics for theatrics’ sake and just trying too damn hard.

The one disappointing aspect of the show, though, was the stark difference between Herring’s performance and his bandmates’. Although clearly talented, bassist William Cashion seemed bored the entire time, rarely looking up from his instrument. Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers’ programmed synth beats were infectious and contributed the perfect upbeat antipode to Herring’s deep-throated, oftentimes melodious vocal stylings, but he, like Cashion, stood in the back, almost unnoticed. The two seemed to perform more like backup instrumentalists and less like members of a band.

Future Islands’ opener and Baltimore buddies Ed Schrader’s Music Beat consisted of Schrader on a single floor tom and Devlin Rice on bass. They made a lot of noise — really good noise — considering that they didn’t have much to work with. Their performance polarized the crowd, with most attendees either loving or hating the often under-two-minute songs. Schrader’s tom was illuminated from within and provided a kind of chiaroscuro lighting (à la Bride of Frankenstein) that, along with his tight, savage beats and Rice’s unorthodox but virtuosic bass playing, prompted images of a Gothic marching band. Most of the short set was made up of nonsensical but strangely addictive songs like “Air Show,” “Gas Station Attendant,” and “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar,” in which Schrader sings, “It’s always in my face/and it’s always been the cause/of Tyrannosaurus Rex/and his goddamn claws.”

Perhaps because it was Schrader’s birthday, or perhaps it was because of his obvious connection with bassist Rice, but the duo’s energy undoubtedly outshone the headliners.

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