Triumph embodies many forms.
Fittingly, for Future Islands, theirs took on a sweat-drenched, workmanlike quality at the Ottobar in Remington Friday night, the first of four sold-out album release shows in the synth-pop band's adopted hometown. The tested road warriors proved why they're still one of the most consistent and rewarding live acts the city has seen since the trio moved from Greenville, N.C., to Baltimore nearly a decade ago.
A specific kind of joy emanated from the stage throughout the band's 25-song set — the type earned after scoring an unlikely hit, touring the world, releasing a new album ("The Far Field") and commemorating it at a smaller-than-expected venue in front of friends, family and fans.
"Thank you for bringing your souls here tonight," a beaming Samuel Herring told the crowd. But then it was quickly back to business: "We just wanna play," said the singer, taking a rare break from his seemingly perpetual motion.
The night — a spirited homecoming that music website Pitchfork broadcast live online — didn't require much banter. This was an intimate celebration of the band's fifth LP, released Friday via the label 4AD.
As usual, the band — which features bassist William Cashion, keyboardist Gerrit Welmers and touring drummer Michael Lowry — burst into the set with a fervor that has become their greatest asset and most recognizable trait. They leaned on new material early on, with six of the first eight songs coming from "The Far Field," like highlights "Cave" and "North Star," which inspired sensual body-rolls from Herring.
The new songs blended seamlessly with older material like 2010's "Walking Through That Door" and "Grease," a 2011 album cut the group hadn't played live in a while, Herring said. It's not surprising: Nearly all Future Islands songs are built on the pillars of Cashion's bass-heavy grooves, Welmers' new wave-inspired landscapes and Herring's captivating presence as a vocalist. On Friday, it was all on display, and the hometown crowd giddily bounced and sang along in response.
Between occasional sips from a Tecate tallboy, Herring and the band continued to strike a balance between new ("Ancient Water," "Through the Roses") and older cuts ("Vireo's Eye" during the encore, "Balance").
The most powerful moment came toward the end, when the group vigorously delivered "Long Flight" and "Tin Man," two songs from 2010's "In Evening Air" that still encapsulate what Future Islands do best. Though the themes are dark — betrayal and failed love, respectively — they wholly embrace human vulnerability and emotional expression. Dance to keep from crying, basically. And it works.
Future Islands played their biggest hit to date, "Seasons (Waiting on You)," midway through, which inspired some of the audience's highest pogoing and loudest sing-alongs.
The song took on new meaning, too. Baltimore had pined for one of its favorite bands to return after conquering the international touring circuit. On Friday night, the crowd's appreciation for this group — its modesty, its hard work, its often-great catalog and for always representing Baltimore with pride (further evidenced by their choice in local opening acts Soul Cannon and Nerftoss) — felt palpable in every full-throated cheer. The victory lap felt shared between artist and consumer. The wait was worth it.
For more photos from the concert, check out Baltimore City Paper's gallery.