The Corner Hotel might be many things to Melbourne’s live music community, but it’s probably never been the setting for a spectacle that resembled a bullfighting ring.

Yet for Future Islands’ Splendour In The Grass sideshow that’s exactly what it felt like. Samuel T. Herring, the three-piece’s frontman and show stealing bull would half charge and give a snuff of rage before reverting back to the middle of the stage.

The crowd acted just as any matador would. Cheers and shouts of encouragement were echoed throughout the audience as the question on everyone’s mind was whether Herring would really follow through and take the plunge into the crowd just as he dared.

Perhaps the audience didn’t deserve such a treat though? Herring would use his primate-like dance moves to signal they could do better. With a bash or two of his chest he made it clear the battle was on. But could the crowd match his impossible onstage intensity?

Herring teases and taunts as he pleases. The master of the show makes Future Islands seem like a moniker with an impeccable backing band rather than an actual trio (or quartet in the live setting).

The band’s live set proves that they’re far more than just a viral-via-Letterman act; they’re a strange hybrid that pop music probably didn’t ask for, but was going to get anyway.

It may feel like a complete ruse when Herring saunters from one side of the stage moving his hips seductively like Beyoncé and then turning around to simultaneously threaten his audience with a growl that would make any hardcore act blush, but the entire live show is compounded by the fact that Herring emotes in a way that outstrips most of his counterparts.

In between each song he explains the meaning behind them. Often referring to a beach-like imagery that once again opposes his onstage intent. ‘Sun In The Morning’ refers to “the simple times we forget”, ‘A Dream Of You and Me’ is about “standing by the ocean where you’re thinking about a question,” while ‘Balance’ is in regards to the “hard times”.

It’s no wonder he takes the time to explain the deeper sentiments behind each song. After the hype that followed as a consequence of their performance on the Late Show With David Letterman you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was all just about the dance moves.

But it’s not. As Future Islands gets intimate with ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’ he stares poignantly at the ceiling as if he’s singing to the departed. You know he’s struck such a pose in just about everyone of their shows on their 2014 tour and yet you still can’t deny that Herring’s passion for the moment still feels convincingly real.

While the significance of instances like this and on the similarly contemplative ‘Lighthouse’ seemed to wash over the crowd’s heads the fan requested ‘Beach Foam’ from their debut quashed any doubts that the audience just showed up to see whether the man from YouTube was in fact real. The track garnered just as much fervor as ‘Seasons’ proving that the fans in attendance had either done their research or had been on board since their four-album discography began in 2008 with Wave Like Home.

The tale of matador and the bull may be one of animal cruelty, but a Future Islands live show is a battle between who got more out of the show.

While the crowd is bewildered and enthralled simultaneously with every scream or bounce across the stage it appears that Herring is putting on a display that must at the very least be emotionally cathartic.

The frontman may act like his limbs are powered by the crowds energy, but he undeniably pulls the strings right through to the end. Herring entertains in a way that makes you feel the victor regardless of how wrong you may be.

Setlist
Back In The Tall Grass
Sun In The Morning
A Dream Of You And Me
Balance
Walking Through That Door
Before The Bridge
Tin Man
Doves
A Song For Our Grandfather
Light House
Beach Foam
Seasons (Waiting On You)
Long Flight
Spirit

Encore:
Fall From Grace
Vireo’s Eyes
Little Dreamer