This is a gig that promises contrasts with the angry punk of IDLES supporting the romantic ‘80s synthesiser of Future Islands. This is also a gig that showcases two bands whose live performances are generating a buzz.
Tonight, outside the Usher Hall, Edinburgh is just finishing clearing the fallen trees from Storm Hector while inside, IDLES are setting up a sound that will make that feel like a sniffle compared to a hurricane. IDLES open with ‘Heel/Heal’ and from the start the feeling is one of a fight about to start. The anger seems aimed at many targets from materialism to oppressive politics to the writer himself. The drums thump and the guitars distort with feedback as frontman Joe Talbot pads slowly about the front of the stage. The clever play on words in the title which with the same sound evokes three meanings grabs the attention and suggests it's not just volume that these guys are bringing to the party.
The second song is ‘Faith In The City’ which mocks those who hold an uncritical faith in god and the third is ‘Mother’ which attacks the desperation of poverty, the Tories and misogyny. There could be a danger of descending into nihilism from this anger overload. However, the IDLES blast at you with details of ordinary life and an honesty that dispels any danger that this is poser-punk.
‘Mother’ is a key song in their set. As, by this point, the bouncing and fists-in-the-air are beginning to spread outwards from the front rows of the audience. The stage set-up is perfect with two guitarists dancing wildly on either side of Talbot as he stands in a cold fury at the centre of this chaos. The anger feels now not random but justified. The simplicity and honesty which delivers it is moving.
The set powers to a finish with ‘Rottweiler’ and a huge ovation for a fine performance. The break time between bands is welcome as a chance to rest and prepare for a very different sort of energy.
Future Islands open with the few synthesiser chords and a gentle bass-beat of ‘Give Us The Wind’. This is a romantic contrast with the IDLES. The other contrast, immediately apparent, is the visual performance. The instrumentalists are on a podium in the back stage and are very still. The main part of the stage is reserved for and dominated by front man Sam Herring. He prowls and stares at the audience, often going down on a knee to look at one person or another particularly. He punctuates his performance with guttural growls often followed by dramatic arm gestures. His performance is both intense and captivating.
The second song is ‘Beauty Of The Road’, which reflects the sad emotions often present in Future Islands lyrics. These are constantly accentuated by Herring’s chest touching and pointing to the audience. They conflict with the infectious dance beat of the songs creating an artistic ambiguity.
Herring’s gyrations roam from can-can dancing to body S’s accompanied by gestures that could look to be straight from a documentary on chimpanzee displays. These are offset by moments when he will hold a single pose for beats like a sculpture. All of this could seem ridiculous but what is astonishing is the seamless way it works with the music to create a complete artwork. He utterly commands attention.
The audience find the rhythms irresistible and vary from swaying in slower passages to wild dancing during the more upbeat and well-known tunes such as ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. This dance-ability extends even into ‘Cave’, which Herring introduces as a sad political song.
The constant drive of the songs is emotional expression which is may be best expressed in the final moves of ‘Tin Man’, where Herring appears to be pulling his chest apart in search for a heart.
The gig is a triumph as it teeters on the brink of pastiche but succeeds through careful crafting on stage in order to express a range of emotions. If you want emotional songs, if you want a good chance to dance and if you want to see a charismatic front man performing at high energy then catch Future Islands.
Further gig images here.