Following Future Islands' March performance on Letterman, the band's secret got out and the group was handed over to the rest of the world. Lead singer Sam Herring turned into a Tumblr meme and a series of GIFs, the band toured a ton (solid dudes that they are, they often brought locals Ed Schrader's Music Beat and Chiffon with them), its latest and subtlest record "Singles" was well-recieved, the dose of sympathy for regular-ass Americans that is the video for 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' scooped up a little over a million views, and the Letterman performance, two million. As much as a band that plays bittersweet, theatrical synth-pop can make it in 2014, Future Islands made it.
On Saturday at Hampdenfest, the group returned to Baltimore for the first time since a pre-Letterman Floristree show in February and it was a little bit like the Baltimore music scene's version of the Ravens' coming home after the Super Bowl for their victory parade. 36th Street was stuffed with people, the area around the stage too full of fans—mostly, it would seem, the ones the group has scooped up in the past five years or so—and further away, plenty more people, nearly extending to Falls Road. And there were others, on top of buildings, dancing and hanging out of windows singing along. The city—or OK, this part of the city—were in it together.
Frontman Sam Herring's head bobs and dance moves that made him a meme will never get old. Like the band itself, it does not matter how many people are hip to it or aware of it, it's still special because it's something you want to share with as many people as possible. That's the point of the group's infectious eccentricity. And if an entire generation of rock frontmen cribbed Herring's style, it would still remain special. On stage at Hampdenfest too, perhaps because he felt among friends, he also added some sexy '90s R&B music-video grinding and some arena-rock-worthy leg kicks. There was also more of a menace to the performance, as if Herring were pushing everything out there a little further. On seething songs like 'Long Flight' he indulged that harrowing black metal growl he's picked up of late, which feels a little bit like you're watching someone's mind malfunction for a moment. It is frighteningly personal. On 'Song For Our Grandfathers' from "Singles," Herring, sweating almost entirely through his shirt, with his hand out to no one in particular or maybe everyone, cried out the final words of the song, "I feel sad."
'Seasons' was the last song they played. No encore, though this was essentially a moderately abbreviated version of the set they've been touring on (a few of the bummer jams were lopped off is all), and it still added up to about 45 minutes, which is more than anyone expected or would've even demanded for a free show. 'Seasons' is the last Future Islands song, the final one, the one where they perfected the formula they first started figuring out on "Little Advances," leaving them to explore other more subtle sounds, which is mostly what they do on their latest record. The band was loud and the crowd was louder, so it was tough to hear his words, but you saw Herring's face—about to cry, full of joy, pissed off—and his Quasimodo crouches, bull-charging lurches, and sock-hop shuffling were visible all the way up 36th Street.