Only three songs into Future Islands’ performance in at the hallowed Refectory, and vocalist Samuel T Herring stumbles over the closing lines of Sun in the Morning to warm cheers. “You just f*** up sometimes Leeds,” he says with a roguish grin. “You’ve just gotta have a laugh.”
Laughs are few and far between during the Baltimore trio’s show but there is still communal joy aplenty to be had. Purveyors of soaring synthpop for a decade, it is this year’s The Far Field that has catapulted them from late-night television cult icons into mainstream consciousness. Duly, they have traded intimate clubs for spacious halls – and they validate their ascension with a technically flawless masterclass in thrilling romantic 80s-noir.
With a sound rooted deep in new wave, it is unsurprising that FI – Herring, keyboardist Gerrit Welmers and bassist William Cashion, plus a touring drummer – conjure up a rich seam of watery melancholia; it’s their delivery that is exhilarating.
From the magnificent dancefloor swagger of North Star to the propulsive indie-rock of A Dream of You and Me, the band deliver crisp, shimmering snapshots of a retro-hued lovelorn landscape with a widescreen heft to proceedings. Time on Her Side sees the group channel New Order’s off-kilter club-bass into something painfully earnest; on the billowing Before the Bridge, they twist the Scandi-pop of a-ha into a cacophony of gothic chimes that evoke an almost evangelical tone.
Herring – a motormouth between songs – is fabulously overwrought and committed as a performer, a larger-than-life figure behind the microphone.
Part Ian Curtis, part Henry Rollins, his stage presence is positively feral; shades of Louis Armstrong’s soulful rasp manifest themselves in his despairing cry. He is the MVP of FI, with no disrespect to the rest; it is his growling voice and barrel-chested physicality that drives the galvanising Ran forward, that swells on the urgent Walking Through That Door, that brings gut-punch emotional power to A Song for Our Grandfathers. When he unleashes that guttural howl near the end of breakout hit Seasons (Waiting On You), it is positively cathartic.
Future Islands are that rare band who match their big songcraft with the stage presence it deserves; based on this, their successes are richly deserved for daring to put such heartfelt animalism front and centre once more.