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FUTURE ISLANDS and MAC DEMARCO at Tattoo, Saturday, June 21. Rating: NNNN
A devastatingly long line snaked its way along Queen Street West, ending at a small cluster of NXNE pass-holders finagling with the bouncers in front of Tattoo. Only media, famous types and convincing talkers allowed inside.
On March 4, Baltimore synth-pop group Future Islands became an overnight sensation thanks to stocky frontman Samuel T. Herring's animated performance of the song Seasons (Waiting On You) on the Late Show With David Letterman. The hitch: they've been making music for a decade, so this was no faddish twerk-gate. An intimate club show as part of the Red Bull Sound Select-curated lineup at Tattoo was an opportunity to take in the singer's deranged dance moves and his tightly coiled band's romantic melodies and big, angular post-punk rhythms up close.
Herring has a curiously dichotomous presence. At times he is officious, thanking fans and intro-ing songs like a considerate host, only to growl like a thrash metal vocalist as he attacked material off the band's recent Singles album and back catalogue with the full force of his body.
His physicality combined the deranged preacher-man histrionics of Nick Cave with pantomime and the sweatiness of Bruce Springsteen. This works so well because the other three dudes in the band appear utterly detached in contrast. As they make uplifting synth choruses and thick bass lines look easy, Herring low-dances, glares intimidatingly at audience members, mimes the lyrics and generally showers the front row in sweat.
Future Islands would be a tough act to follow but Canadian singer/guitarist Mac DeMarco's energy was intense in a different enough way that rewarded fans with a little bit of patience.
Earlier in the day, DeMarco played a laid-back, sunny afternoon set at Yonge-Dundas Square to an enthusiastic crowd. The Brooklyn-based performer's winningly goofy stoner charisma and reputation for messiness and onstage nudity belie his finger-picking skills and the often pretty, heartfelt jangle pop of last year's acclaimed Salad Days LP.
The first half of his hour-long set - billed as a "secret show" on the NXNE schedule - was pretty much a tipsier version of his daytime gig. Telling the crowd the band was now called the Poo Bangers, DeMarco strummed a vintage guitar along to songs such as Blue Boy, I'm A Man, Brother and Baby's Wearin Blue Jeans.
Although he is ascending to headliner status, DeMarco is clearly more at home performing in intimate surrounds where he does not have to mask his offensive urges with politely incoherent stage banter.
Ode To Viceroy was renamed Ode To Christ - one of several Jesus references intermingled with daddy-issues references that bore fruit when he finally abandoned inhibitions and the mood switched from pleasantly tipsy to ragingly drunk in the last 20 minutes. The band launched into a sloppy and meandering power-rock medley that covered Dave Brubeck's Take Five, Metallica's Enter Sandman, Limp Bizkit's Break Stuff, the Police's Message In A Bottle and a version of Bachman Turner Overdrive's Takin' Care Of Business featuring lyrics about sucking dad's dick and wiping jizz off his lips.
Bassist Pierce McGarry, who sounds like he's taking a painful shit when he sings, occasionally took on lead vocal duties and DeMarco forced the security team to pay extra attention by flipping forward on top of a crowd surfer from the stage. He further panicked the AV staff by nearly colliding with a pair of expensive-looking projectors dangling from the ceiling as the crowd carried him around the now-sparsely populated club. Eventually he landed somewhere near the bar surrounded by security and promptly ordered drinks.
Back on the stage, he finished the show with flowers on his head and goofy grin in full force, offering the following explanation: "Sometimes when you play those fancy shows where everybody gives a fuck, it drives you crazy."