When Future Islands announced a second, early show to precede their return engagement at Muddy Waters, I flirted with the idea of attending twice. And by the end of their original, late-night showing on Wednesday, I wished I had shown up earlier. For their sophomore stint in Santa Barbara, the Baltimore trio definitely kicked things up a notch, wielding multicolored — and expertly triggered — floodlights, as well as a shiny new drum machine. At their core, though, the band was just as I remembered them: an immediate and in-your-face mix of synthesized two-step and artful punk rock.
On record as in person, frontman Samuel T. Herring’s voice is a force to be reckoned with, malleable, guttural, and booming in a way that plays beautifully alongside bassist William Cashion’s subtle but mighty parts and Gerrit Welmers’ driving synth tones. Still, Future Islands’ ace in the hole is Herring, whose stage presence mimics both the intensity of Henry Rollins and the immediacy of a trained thespian. Needless to say, Muddy’s tiny show space proved to be Herring’s biggest obstacle on Wednesday, and he almost took out his bandmates and core audience members at numerous points throughout the evening.
Musically, though, the show went off without much of a hitch. (Cashion’s late-set cable swap merely gave fans — and Herring — a minute to catch their breath.) Fittingly, the set list was front-loaded with material off the band’s third and most recent disc, the brooding and wonderful On the Water. The second half, however, brought the older goods, including a mighty rendition of “Tin Man,” an emotionally ripe “Little Dreamer,” and an S.B.-dedicated “Beach Foam.” And the at-capacity crowd anxiously ate it up, danced along, and begged for more. Now, let us hope it’s not another two years before they venture west again.