Future Islands at O2 Guildhall Southampton 17.11.2022 with Laundromat supporting.
This my first visit for several years to Southampton Guildhall, since back pre-Lockdown for a few gigs in Spring 2019: Suede and The Manic Street Preachers. After numerous echoey sound problems I have tried to dodge the place if possible, but maybe I will think again. With a capacity of 1749 standing (with a small rear seated balcony) it’s a good size to get decent bands though.
The O2 Guildhall Southampton
It has the shape, high ceiling and often the acoustics of a Victorian swimming pool – stone wall echo. On those last two visits I got as far to the front as possible as that seemed to improve the sound – a Band of Skulls gig here introduced me to that idea. However, tonight we we’re up in the rear balcony (front row) and an added high level central speaker may have helped as the sound was decent.
The view from the balcony is a little distant but unobstructed and I appreciated the seat with this being the first of three gigs in three nights. There is no bar up there but there are toilets.
Downstairs the two main bars are off to each side and are separate rooms which I like – chattering minimised. Usual O2 limitations but pleased to see some decent bottles in the fridges: Tribute and Witchwood. (When I saw Motörhead here in 2011, pre-fancy earplug days, I hid in the bar for songs I didn’t know to save my ears for the best, peering out stagewards. Possibly my loudest gig experience ever. Overkill was a chest and brain pounding monster.)
The building has a very grand classic exterior, although built in the 1930s as part of the large collection of civic buildings – grade II listed and refurbished in 1989. There is another small rear bar at the back of the main hall, behind a room divider and opposite is the large merch stand.
It’s a short walk uphill from the main train station or if driving my preferred car park is across the park from the venue: Grosvenor Square multi-storey or the flat one next to that if not full. I noticed a one-way system has made it harder to find than last time I was here.
My pre-gig pub recommendation is the Belgium and Blues bar. Astonishing beer menu on tap and in bottles. Plenty of other choices along the Above Bar Street that one is on.
First up Laundromat. Nothing for me there. I thought the vocal detracted from the slow melodic indie tunes, but I find later that the singer, Toby Hayes, is the creator of it all.
Future Islands – looking back
It’s five years since I saw Future Islands, seeing them twice in 2017: at Glastonbury in the John Peel tent and at O2 Academy Bournemouth. I was ushered in to the John Peel tent by friends who said I had to see them. I’d not heard of them although they had been going since 2006. They were right to usher me.
Singles (2014) is the best album for me – a good entry point if you don’t know them – with The Far Field (2017) being a favoured source for material the other times I’ve seen them. The breakthrough for them came the first time the unusual dancing Sam Herring appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman.
They are from North Carolina originally (now Baltimore based) and it’s the same lead singer (Samuel T. Herring), keyboards (Gerrit Welmers) and bassist and other guitars (William Cashion) since they formed – the drummer (Michael Lowry) the later addition. It is quite a heavy electro-pop sound with bass guitar only when live.
Future Islands tonight
The band line up with Sam Herring loose at the front and the rest of the band on a slightly raised platform behind, which they don’t stray from. A warm welcome – Herring seems a very likeable character. No flash stage clothes – but high kicks, low crouches and some great growls.
The set draws from four albums including, I’m pleased to say, four from Singles.
Up in the balcony front row a video clip is an easy task – out of people’s way and nothing in my way and something to lean on. Early set clip of Ran starts with some distinctive restrained throaty sounds and a little bit of light growling.
Sam Herring covers all the stage – side to side – up at the drums – down at the front almost whispering lovingly to front row fans – eyes following every move – cheers for the most ambitious moves. The set moves on and slips by pretty fast. It is a relaxing sound, one that rumbles along with the anxious cries of that distinctive voice box.
Near the set’s end is Seasons (Waiting on You). It’s still the best and what the crowd is waiting for most and I took another pocket camera video (link takes you to my YouTube channel).
Warm applause at the break and some good old pre-encore stomping, after which there are three more songs Inch of Dust, Vireo’s Eye and lastly Little Dreamer – that one is introduced with reflections on what that means to them – their long road to recognition and living out their dreams.
A successful return to Southampton Guildhall for me. I will be less resistant in future and see how it goes….especially if Future Islands are coming.