Dancer in the Dark(ness)

Within the world of pop/rock music, there have been only three* completely original (that is, mental) dancers. One is Samuel T. Herring of Baltimore’s Future Islands.

Future Islands played Berlin this year. My very first exposure to this band (and Herring’s dancing) came some months earlier while undertaking Saturday chores. The relatively routine aspects of life which make life… well life (cleaning, vacuuming, and shampooing the cat). Accompanied by a Youtube playlist featuring the music of Richard Hawley, Suede and the National wavering across a screen.

But Youtube threw a curve ball: “The Chase” live on Letterman by Future Islands. Tossed haphazardly into the playlist. I wasn’t sure if I liked it.

I had to watch it three times before I decided I did like it.

What’s to like or not like? Well, it’s not just the dancing. It’s not just the way he crouches, bobs and jerks across the stage. The man with the best quads in rock. It’s not just how he stares into (or through) the crowd with such pleading intense insanity, or beats his chest with utter sincerity, or can tear his voice to a guttural scream at any moment, or even how he drops to his knees in ritual contrition.

It is all of this and much more.

Like the love-child of Henry Rollins and Morrissey, Herring presents a completely real stage persona and performance in a way that no front man (or woman) has offered in years.

The same in person? Well, yes and no. The energy is spread out more over an 80-odd-minute set verses a 3-minute TV performance. No one has the fitness level to keep that work-out up for an entire concert.

At times Future Islands do betray their art-school origins. It’s performance art meant to get a reaction, meant to make the observer feel something. Embarrassment? Connection? It probably doesn’t matter, because the intention is to grab and hold, mesmerized, snake-like in a trance. And I don’t think anyone could watch and not react.

An open expression as he treads panther-like across the cage-stage pleading for understanding, underlying a physical and emotional strength. No whiny little bitch. Nobody’s victim. He sings “I take my licks like a man,” and you believe him; striking down the twin pillars that a man must either be tough and unemotional, or conversely a bed-wetting victim. It’s all there in one performance.

Be yourself. Uninhibited.

Be strong.

Be weird.

Some won’t like it. Some will like it.

*Peter Garrett of Australia’s Midnight Oil, and of course Ian Curtis of Manchester’s Joy Division, are the other two original dancers in the dark(ness).

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