Far too many words have been written about the idiocy of “indie rock” as a genre, but most would concede to the term’s utility in defining acts as varied as Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter over the past decade or so. Such broad-scoped categorization is as trite and banal as “alternative rock” was in the mid-to-late nineties, and it comes with little surprise that “indie rock” has reached the same lifeless level of corporate co-option that alleged “left-of-the-dial” rock did twenty years ago.
Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen was spot on when he wrote that ”Animal Collective’s 2012 album Centipede Hz clearly signaled the end of an indie rock era.” That was two years ago. These days, it’s pretty hard to get behind a lot of the bands that the so called “indie machine” pumps out, but if there’s one broadly-defined “indie rock band” who’s rightfully earned their spot on the indie-major, best new music, late-night talk show circuit, it’s Future Islands, who performed to a packed house at House of Vans this past week.
People reportedly started lining up as early as 3 p.m. for the free with RSVP show, and many were turned away as the skatepark cum-venue reached capacity about fifteen minutes after doors opened at 7:00. Not bad for an old Thrill Jockey band who used to play Death By Audio every year, eh?
Mas Ysa did his best Avey Tare impression for the few dozen people whose primary M.O. wasn’t to get absolutely wasted on free Shiner Bock in the early goings of the evening. Those people missed out on a great set. I wish I could say the same for the paint-by-numbers synth-pop of Operators, but I thought they sounded pretty flat and boring, especially in contrast to the colorful acts whom they shared the stage with. I guess anyone is going to seem kind of dull before the spectacle that is Omar Souleyman.
It was my second time seeing Souleyman perform (or, to be more accurate, walk around the stage disinterested while his Persian dadwave DJ pumps out Middle Eastern-inspired dance beats) and just like last time, the crowd was a mix of dumbfounded and “totally fucking into it.” I read some reports that described the crowd as dead for his set, but most people seemed pretty amped from what I could see… although I may be basing my opinion on this one sad bro dude who’s “game” was to dance around wildly so that he would seem hilarious to/bump into/grind on any female within a fifteen-foot radius of his flailing arms and awkward, jerky two-step. Surprisingly, he ended up dancing alone all night.
As awful and eye-roll inducing as it was watching dude bro dance around and spill his Shiner all over the place, it was conversely amazing watching Samuel T. Herring dance around like Mick Jagger and David Bowie in that one music video (you know the one) for the duration of Future Islands’ Singles-heavy set. I was hoping to hear more of my old favorites (they did play “Tinman,” “Inch of Dust” and an encore of “Vireo’s Eye”), but it was clear that they were mostly playing to a crowd of newly-acquired fans who sang along to every word from Singles (but not to “Tinman,” “Inch of Dust” or “Vireo’s Eye.”)
I’m an old fan of Future Islands, but whether you first heard of them from that Letterman performance or if you’ve seen Hemlock Ernst spit bars at the aforementioned Death By Audio on a second date, you know one thing: Samuel T. Herring puts on the absolute BEST show in “indie rock.” He was throwing high kicks, pointing at people, busting spin moves and even burst into tears at the end of one song, while staring off into the abyss. He moved from croon to tenor to death metal scrawl and back again effortlessly. He writes songs that are both impossibly sad and infectiously danceable. His voice and his facial expressions are marked with pain and existential agony, but he looks like he’s having the time of his life up there. He’s earnest but never pretentious, theatrical but never cheesy. He’s punk rock and Broadway rolled into one. And judging by the crowd, everyone (even sad dude bro) is going along for the ride.