Good dance bands are hard to come by, and it takes a great one to get a place like Muddy Waters up and grooving. But this past Sunday, a lucky few were privy to a shakedown unlike most others, thanks in large part to Baltimore’s Future Islands.
Opening up the night, Santa Barbara locals Simple Machines lubricated the crowd with a mix of guitar-driven instrumental pop. After that, Oxnard’s Catwalk — and their accompanying posse of rabid fans — filled the Mud with their super catchy mix of ‘50s sock hop rock and synth-fueled lo-fi. Despite their youth, the four-piece more than made up for any onstage foibles with their warm guy-girl harmonies and solid hooks. In short, they’re one (semi) local band to keep an eye out for.
Still, it was Future Islands who undoubtedly ruled Sunday’s lineup. The North Carolina-born, Baltimore-bred trio are known for their quirk, and their stop at Muddy Waters certainly proved why. At the head of the full room, frontman Samuel Herring commanded the crowd’s attention through a series of epic gestures and hand shakes that later evolved into everything from high jumps to full-body dance moves. And while it took front-row attendees a few songs to warm to Herring’s in-your-face antics, once they succumbed the energy was almost infectious.
Backed by synth and computer wizard J. Gerrit Welmers and the thumping bass of William Cashion, Herring’s low, gravely voice moved from guttural (“An Apology”) to almost operatic (“Little Dreamer”) and back again throughout the set. Numbers like the emotive “In the Fall” and the set-opening “Inch of Dust” went off without a hitch, suggesting that Muddy’s humble system sounds its best when manned by a capable technician. And the lack of a pounding drum kit meant that Herring’s vocals and Welmers’ tripped-out samples and keys could ring out loud and clear.
By night’s end, with a small throng of pogo-ing fans before him, Herring further upped the ante, unleashing bags of inflated balloons on the crowd and putting into motion a colorful game of hot potato for him to sing along to. It may have been a small gesture, but set to the synthy sounds and pulsating beats of “Vireo’s Eye” it incited one hell of a dance party — and made Future Islands a few fans richer.