Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: Future Islands at ACL TV

Last night I joined my fellow Austin Hipsteratti to witness the live performance of Future Islands committed to "tape" for Austin City Limits Television. As many of you know, I am fortunate to be able to attend many of these tapings and I can tell you the best ones are by artists who have an obvious reverence for the show. It's a very special experience for the audience and the performer to be at an ACL TV taping. For people like me who grew up in rural parts of the country, ACL TV was a connection to a music world that seemed so far away. It existed in its own reality inside the television. When an artist recognizes that their performance for the show exists within an important historical spectrum, you can feel that energy coming from the stage.

Future Islands -Seasons (Waiting On You) video via YouTube

I caught Future Islands' most recent performance at the Mohawk earlier this year and I had a great time at the show. However, they seem to be a very divisive band even within my own household and it seems the cause for such passionate reactions on both ends of the spectrum is directly related to the lead-singer, Sam. Future Islands is four people. There is a keyboardist/sampler/sequencer dude, there's a drummer (who plays with headphones), there's a bass player and there's a singer. Not counting the vocals, they are a 3-piece band who pumps out some really tight New Wave music. If they had no vocalist, or a different vocalist they would still be a good band. Sam is that X factor. His vocals shift from balladeer to hardcore singer in a moments notice. The songs lyrics are very personal and they are delivered with an over-the-top passion. Sam's performance has elements of an evangelical preacher, an interpretive dancer and a Shakespearian actor. He emotes, he gyrates, he sometimes sounds like Cookie Monster and he beats his chest like Tarzan. This may not be the most appealing description but to someone like me, who's a fan, all of this comes together to create an incredibly compelling performance.

Even in the moments that I can't take Sam seriously, I can't take my eyes off of him. He manages to be incredibly sexy and powerful but still vulnerable and a bit weird. When the band took the stage, I remarked how they looked like substitute teachers and the person next to me said, "That's what I love about him." There's something about this band that makes you want to root for them. I understand the detractors. Sometimes it's hard to take the performance seriously because it is so over the top. Sometimes the cookie monster voice can take you out of the experience but I feel like part of the point of music is to escape your reality and enter into the reality of that moment. Whether you like them or not, Future Islands create their own musical reality. I'm so excited that last night's performance will be beamed to public television stations across the country so some kid in rural wherever can be a part of Future Islands' reality for 30 minutes.

I should also note, because many of you who are reading this already know, that my beloved Mr. S. enjoyed himself more than he would ever admit. After their show at the Mohawk he was not ready to pledge his allegiance to the flag of Future Islands and he still isn't BUT last night's performance for ACL TV was a much more controlled performance than the set at the Mohawk. I don't think the band held anything back for ACL TV but I do feel like they were consciously more refined for the larger audience.

Last night's taping will be part of the 40th Season of ACL TV, which will premiere next month with an episode featuring Beck. I was lucky enough to attend that taping as well, and I can tell you that it's a greatest hits set rather than a check-out my new LP set. I love Beck's new LP and was fully prepared to be immersed in sad Beck but getting funky Mixed Bizness Beck is NEVER a bad thing.

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Jungle at Mohawk

Wednesday night I took a brief respite from the confines of my apartment to watch a band who came all the way from England to perform at the Mohawk. I'm not sure if the show was fully sold out but it certainly felt like there were enough people present. I left the apartment late so I did not arrive in time to catch any of the support acts. Sorry y'all, I'm sure you were great I know I'll be kicking myself in the future for missing you. I entered on the numbered street side (11th?), which ended up being a stupid way to come in because I watched the show from the ground level near the merch booth. Before the merch booth was there, it was my favorite spot to watch an outside show at the Mohawk. For my money, the ground-level of the Mohawk anywhere under the roof gives you the best sound. It's a tricky place to plant though because people are always trying to move in every direction there. I usually try to wedge myself against a wall, like I'm in a rock n roll timeout. I say all of this because Jungle sounded impeccable. Most of their songs have four people singing all at once, which can be a hot mess in a live setting. With seven people on the stage and at least four of them singing, I was incredibly impressed with how balanced everything was. Throughout the first song I assumed they were performing with a backing track because they sounded so good but eventually I started to believe they're just that tight.

Jungle - Time video via YouTube

I had heard good things about Jungle's debut LP, and I knew they earned a lot of buzz at SXSW. I was even able to hear them for a few minutes during Lollapalooza but they certainly lived up to the hype. Their sound draws you in, and as the set progressed you could feel the energy of the crowd elevating. As someone who likes dance and R&B music, I'm really excited about this indie(ish) movement in which the groove is king. Artists like How to Dress Well, FKA Twigs, Jessy Lanza, Chet Faker and inc. are all turning R&B on its head. Stripping the style down to the essence of the groove. Jungle is certainly coming from a more traditional space than the artists I just listed but the groove is still king. When their set started, I was immediately reminded of LCD Soundsystem's Nike Run Mix aka 45:33. Since that mix is intended for a workout, it starts with a sort of warm-up bpm. Whatever the bpm is in Part 2 of that mix, that's Jungle's sweet spot.

After a few songs I dubbed Jungle's sound Chillwave Bee Gees, which kind of means nothing and kind of means everything. There's a band from Australia called, Movement who I think fits this mold as well. It's not straight-up disco, it's more loungey than disco and it's not straight-up R&B either. Whatever you do or don't want to call it, it sounds good and Jungle sounded great playing it. They sounded incredibly slick and I don't expect they'll be doing small club tours for very long. Granted I was on the ground level so I couldn't see the whole crowd but everyone I could see what feelin some type a way about Jungle.

If you're a fan of any of the artist I've listed in this post, you should check out all of the other artists I listed. They don't all sound alike and some are more challenging than others but I feel like if you can appreciate one of them you can appreciate all of them.

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