Written by G.Bonilla and D. Lee
There was a line almost 2 blocks long waiting to to get into the venue before doors had opened. Future Islands, who were playing club gigs last year, are now selling out storied venues like the Wiltern.
It’s not easy for bands to break through. Sometimes it can take years. Sometimes it never happens. It took 8 years, but Future Islands finally got the exposure they deserved when they made their network television debut on March 3, 2014, on The Late Show with David Letterman, performing the lead single “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. That’s how I discovered them. That’s why I’ve seen them three times this year.
We entered the storied venue and as the others spent time visiting Red Bull affiliated booths and activities in the lobby, we stepped into the performance room to set up shop to find a good view. As we made our way up front, walking towards the relatively empty orchestra pit, a security guard stopped us to give us wristbands to enter the space up front. Typically at the Wiltern, orchestra pit passes are given to those waiting in line for the doors to open. Thankful, for whatever reason, that they gave them out, first come-first served, to whose who ventured to the front of the stage before the show started.
The first band to take the stage was Red Bull Sound Select artist, SPEAK; an art rock band from Austen, Texas.
The muted look of black attire and prescription glasses camouflaged the three guys and drummer out on stage. They quietly took the stage and meekly addressed the audience. They didn’t have to say a word. They introduced themselves to the audience by digging into their instruments. With a different palate to offer, SPEAK took a detour from the synth-pop lineup of the evening. Elaborations on four-on-the-floor beats and pop progressions were accompanied by synth lines but not driven by them. That’s not to say that the band was unfamiliar with how to hook a bait; the oscillating melodies that stamped each of their songs are proof of their knack for knowing what sticks.
Joey, Troupe, and Nick (bass, vocals, guitar) heralded three part harmonies that maintained the attention of an audience caught off guard by the band’s naïve appearance and subdued interactions. That’s not to say that there was a timidity in their sound. Troupe’s ambitious vocal range sailed smoothly through the heart of every song, and as a singing trio they were just as solid and as much of a centerpiece. Their quick paced songs were brought down to hip swaying tempos at times, adding an aura of unexpected intensity and edge to the band’s otherwise sonically friendly climate. But despite their seemingly shy demeanors reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie, but edgier, the four guys from Austin performed a confident set of hook-heavy pop rock.
The second band, another Red Bull Sound Select Artist, Rose Quartz, is a synth band Denver, Colorado.
As the veil of darkness on stage lifted to reveal stacked bulks of vintage looking synth gear, the duo known as Rose Quartz (who perform as a foursome live with the addition of guitar and drums) went into what I would describe as dancy trancy synthy indie.
Their cyclical progressions and repetitive vocal lines gave the performance a chanty element and plenty of landscape to dance to, making their set sound like one long song. Build-ups usually plateaud onto lyrical incantations while vocal effects trailed through musical changes that hopped back and forth between two or three chords. Again, dancy trancy synthy indie. The band’s musicianship gave gravity to the group’s spacey nature and I appreciated the strength of their live show; they gave their all and played an enthusiastic set. I would however like to hear them develop the journey of their songs instead of relying on technological filters as a vehicle to drive the music home. We couldn’t ignore that the progression of their songs lacked a story, leaving listeners pretty much where it all began. Nonetheless, their stamina to float into the ether and keep the dance vibes rolling made for a truly dancy, trancy, synthy indie time at the Wiltern.
Rose Quartz was a decent appetizer … but we were ready and anxious for Future Islands to take the stage..
When Future Islands walked out on stage, you could tell that the crowd that was unmistakably on a mission to move and be moved. Singer Samuel Herring began with speaking a heartfelt introduction that bonded us both and served as preparation for a ceremony of unabashed intimacy.
There seemed to be shaky start as within a few seconds of their opening song, Sam gestured abruptly to kill sound and apologized of for the synth malfunction. It was as is he was teasing and taunting the brewing hurricane that the music was stirring. The audience was more than willing to forgive the incident even before Herring made a comment on the beauty of second chances. If anything, the technical difficulty proved to show the humanity in the circumstance and fit right in with the prevalent theme of their music.
They picked up just as powerfully as the first attempt, and it soared from there. Between primal outbursts of energy, blessing the crowd, eating his own sweat, and a Hulk-like tear through his shirt, the shamanistic vocalist prodded out our repressions as he shared with us his confessions. Balloons released from above as the night came to a close and Future Islands made sure there wasn’t a single thing you hadn’t danced out by playing three encores. By the end of the performance, the air was thick with the sweat of released emotional baggage. Walking back out into the city was the perfect cool down for the collective dance party we’d all just had.