Last year, I attended over half a dozen concerts that were organized by Red Bull Sound Select for their month long “30 Days In L.A.” initiative, and I have to admit that each of the shows I attended was extremely well curated. With the new year, I’ve got new expectations, and since Red Bull Sound Select knocked it out of the park last year, and since Amoeba Music, the world’s largest independent record store, was curating the talent for the evening, my expectations were high.
“[…] 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.
[…] 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 […].
“[…] 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. […] 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.”
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.
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THOUGHTS: To think that I almost missed out on seeing Future Islands perform at Coachella 2014. If it wasn’t for their lead singer, Sam Herring, convincing me to check them out, I would have missed out on music that I have perched high on my “best of the year” lists. When I found out they were performing at First City Festival, I urged all of my friends who were also attending to check them out. They, like me, were amazed by what they saw and heard. I think part of what makes Future Islands’ live performance so powerful to witness is the emotive stage presence of Mr. Herring. Every movement … every gesture … it all speaks to something, and it’s truly a revelation to witness. I suppose that why most of my shots of the band were of Sam. It really couldn’t be helped. I suppose that I should have bust out a wider angled lens to capture the entire band … hopefully, I’ll get a chance to do that in the future when they get back to Los Angeles for another gig.
The Naked and Famous are an indie electronic/melodic pop, alternative rock band from Auckland, New Zealand. To the best of my knowledge, their performance at Coachella was the first after having recently wrapped up a stint opening for Imagine Dragons’ arena tour. They continue their touring in support their 2013 release “In Rolling Waves” with dates in the United States, Australia and Europe.
I enjoy their music. In fact, when I first heard their big single “Young Blood” years ago, I thought it was a Passion Pitt release, and I’m a huge Passion Pitt fan. My only criticism of their Coachella set is that I felt that their live performance lacked a bit of energy, which is odd because their music is so driving and lends to … well … energy. Now, don’t get me wrong … I enjoyed the set. In fact, I’d go see them perform again. I think I was perhaps just expecting a little more excitement. It may have had something to do with mid-day time slot, and perhaps their live act is much more suitable with an accompanying light show like this video on their youtube channel seems to demonstrate. It may have been the fact that I wasn’t entrenched in the dancing masses as I was watching them perform from the photo pit. If I do go seem them perform again, which I certainly would buy a ticket for, I’d make sure it was a club or theater venue as opposed to an outdoor festival. As another, inconsequential aside, I like Alisa Xayalith’s hair longer. She’s still a cutie though… 😉
I didn’t get approved to take pictures of Muse’s set, so I decided to check out the Pet Shop Boys before deciding whether to try catching Nas. By the time the Pet Shop Boys’ set started, the speed of the winds had picked up considerably, and there was dust swirling everywhere. I found it difficult to catch clean snaps of the seminal new wave band from the UK as it seemed that I kept focusing on the dust rather than the band, but I think there are a couple of keepers. I didn’t catch the entire set, but I did hear “Opportunities” performed live, and I figured that that was good enough for me.
After my time in the pit had expired, my feet were killing me, and the amount of dust on my face and in my nose/throat was quite unbearable. Due to my relative inexperience, I made the poorest decision of the weekend by opting to beat the traffic and skipping Nas’ set which turned out to be a historic performance. Major props to the professional photographers were able stick it out until the days festivities has shut down. Maybe I need to email a few of them about what kind of shoes they wear…
It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t make the cut to shoot Queens of the Stone Age’s set, so at the wise suggestion of a photographer from Canada, I decided to check out Empire Of Sun. Wow.
Empire of the Sun is an electronic music duo from Sydney Australia. Having achieved critical acclaim abroad, I was surprised that I had never heard of them before. Their set took place in the Sahara Tent, and I’ll be honest, I tried desperately to stay from that part of the festival grounds all weekend as it was usually overcrowded with molly-popping, inebriated, frat boys pushing their way to get in to rave. It was no exception this time around. Empire of the Sun absolutely packed the tent. Even after my time in the photo pit had ended, it took a good 5 minutes to get out of the photo pit area as security was trying to push back people trying to push their way in.
In terms of the music, truth be told, I really wasn’t paying too much attention to it at the time. I was more intrigued by the costumes, choreography and videos playing in the background. Total sensory overload. After the festival had ended, I looked up more of their music and as it turns out I actually enjoyed what I heard. One of their most recent singles, “Alive”, is really catchy.
On the photography front, being relatively short (5’8′), I noticed, for the first time, how high the Sahara stage was. I found it difficult to snap pics, which was a bit of a shame since the stage production for the band, costumes, videos and all, was pretty epic. I think I was still able to catch a few decent shots. What do you think?
If Woodkid was the surprise set of my Friday, Future Islands was the surprise set of my Saturday.
Between catching White Lies and Banks, I took a pit stop in the media tent of the festival. While there, I noticed Samuel Herring, lead singer of Future Islands, hanging out after an interview. For some reason, perhaps due to the little sleep I had the two nights before, I went up to Samuel and apologized for missing his band’s set on Friday. Problem was, they were performing later that evening. D’oh!!!! He politely corrected me, and encouraged me to go check them out. I was a bit too embarrassed to show him that I had actually circled their set in my festival booklet, and opted to assure him that I would while asking for a selfie, which he graciously obliged.
As an aside, in those few minutes chatting with Sam Herring, I got the impression that he was one of the most humble and easy going dudes on the planet. Total bonus points in the “cool” column.
When the band took the stage and started performing, I was blown away. I had seen videos of them perform live online, but there’s nothing like watching Sam Herring rock the stage in the flesh. He performs with such a passion, you can’t helped but get hypnotized by him. His facial expressions, body language, even hand gestures all served the purpose to help tell the stories he was singing.
To put it bluntly, I fucking loved it. On record store day, I actually looked for their LP to buy. It was apparently sold out, so I ended up buying their album on cassette instead. It was the second cassette I’ve purchased in the past 15 years (the other being a copy of The Pharcyde’s “Bizarre Ride To Tha Pharcyde”). I’ve played that cassette at least a half a dozen times since, and each time I think about their performance at Coachella.
If you enjoy bands like War On Drugs, Phantogram or St. Vincent, you should check out Future Islands. If you have the opportunity to see them live in a club venue, do it.