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At Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Future Islands deliver dramatic opening set

With Das Racist calling out sick (the rap group took to Twitter to clarify Heems had strep throat), Baltimore trio Future Islands kicked off Virgin Mobile FreeFest's West stage a little before 1 p.m. at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Lead singer Sam Herring waved the Baltimore flag proudly: "Did you guys see that O's game last night," he asked to cheers. "It was awesome. The Nats, too. We're hoping for a beltway World Series."

Despite the loose banter, Herring and the band were all business when it came time to play. The 40-minute set was filled mostly with tracks from the group's latest record, "On the Water." A decent-sized crowd had accumulated, but the response was initially timid to Herring's unique growl and passionate stage presence.

But by the time the group launched into "Balance," the crowd had accepted the synth-pop trio's brand of sad-but-danceable laments. It was easy to see why: Frontmen like Herring -- enthusiastic, melodramatic and a big ball of sweaty energy -- seem to be a dying breed.

Herring spent the entire set beating his chest, dancing (something like the old Atlanta Falcons "Dirty Bird" touchdown celebration) and reaching out to the heavens.

The other impressive aspect of Future Islands is the amount of sound they create between three people with only two instruments (not counting Herring's one-of-a-kind voice).

Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers stays incredibly busy creating the band's lush backdrops, while bassist William Cashion adds a sturdy low-end. But this is Herriing's show, something he happily reminded the audience during the band's best (and newest) song, "Tomorrow," as he wailed and screamed in a cathartic outpouring.

Notebook scribblings: Another strong turn-out for FreeFest, with an expected 50,000 people in attendance, according to spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer. The decision to wait until October looks like a stroke of genius, as the weather is perfect for an outdoor festival -- no humidity, just sun and a light breeze.

There are moments that feel like an Indian Summer and others that seem like a brisk reminder fall is here, but it's been pleasant thus far. Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson, sporting a bright yellow v-neck and leather jacket, flew in from Winnipeg for the event.

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