Published Sep 03, 2014Operators, the analog synth-rock project helmed by Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs and Divine Fits fame, have put a lot of focus and attention on their live show, having chosen not to release any music before their first gigs earlier this year to allow fans to be introduced to their the music live. That hasn't changed, even with the release of their first EP last month.
Their opening set found the band blasting their bleep-y rock tunes with passion and flair, while also pulling off some tricks that are usually reserved for more established bands, like extending "older" (in this case, being released a month ago) material and bringing out some impressive guest stars in former Hot Hot Heat bassist Dustin Hawthorne and Perfect Pussy lead singer Meredith Graves (Hawthorne gave the four-string to Future Islands bassist William Cashion for a one-song cameo as well).
The main trio — Boeckner, Devojka, Divine Fits/New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown — were only alone for two songs, but even then, they proved that they were a full package. Opening number "Ancient," from the band's new EP1, twisted and turned through various shades of synth-rock, even with no guitars in sight, and a new tune on which Boeckner sings about "nowhere kids" and "breaking the law" was a real banger, even before Boeckner pulled out his guitar for the climax. Wild keyboard solos, intense drum fills and creative electronics were par for the course, and executed with intensity. Devojka's handling of a complex panel of analog synths and doo-hickeys was masterfully executed, while Brown's drumming was brutal but with a restrained technicality.
It's not that Operators sounded thin with just the trio, but having a bass guitar really enhanced the band's sound, adding a smoother low-end groove to balance the punchy electronics, hard-hitting drums and Boeckner's throaty howl. Graves' backup vocals were sparing but added a nice hit of reverb-laced vocals when utilized, and she joined Boeckner on guitar for the final number.
A ridiculous percentage of Future Islands' publicity is devoted to Samuel T. Herring, the band's dancing, growling lead singer, and their live setup makes it clear why: the three other members are pushed to the back of the stage, giving Herring ample space to saunter around. Snarling, kicking, crawling, hitting himself and examining his hand as if it just magically grew from his wrist moments earlier are just a few of the things Herring is prone to do live, all while belting out song after song as if his life depended on it (which, as a full-time musician, it technically does).
Bouncing around their four LPs, including March release Singles, the quartet featured tight electronic grooves, held down by keyboardist Gerrit Welmers, bassist William Cashion and touring drummer Michael Lowry. Despite their silence and stoicism, they crafted catchy hooks and steady beats as a powerful anchor for Herring's unrestrained wildness. While the instrumental trio had no massive solos or moments of personality outside their music, they all still shone alongside the solar flare that is Herring. From the polyrhythmic opening of "Walking Through That Door" to the atmospheric synth groove of "The Great Fire," the band's incredibly solid foundation beautifully contrasted with Herring's spontaneous black metal growl.
Every song seemed as if it was carefully reassembled for live performance, although Herring's voice did seem too unnecessarily reverbed. Rifling from hit after hit, the set's theatricality hit a new level during their now-iconic "Seasons (Waiting for You)" when Arcade Fire's Win Butler, ostensibly in Montreal for some much needed R&R after completing the Reflektor Tour, took to the stage to duet with Herring in a touching moment of camaraderie. After that, Herring kept the momentum and massively high energy going. While a screw-up could deter many a musician, Herring handled an error during set closer "Spirit" by vehemently yelling "I fucked up!" which seemed only to make him stronger as they restarted the song to cap the set proper with a great number.
After a lengthy, dramatic pause, the quartet returned for a four-song encore, including black metal-chorused "Fall From Grace" and the unbelievably bouncily hooking "Vireo's Eye" before settling down with the night's slowest number, "Little Dreamer," to slow down the heart rates of the sweat-drenched attendees.
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