Under stars both real and crafted, the Antler’s proved that they’re more than just an indie band who make sad music. The low key, intimate show at Hackney Empire showed that there’s much more to the Antlers than morbid sadness and albums about hospices and isolation – but there’s a lot of that too.
The Antler’s latest release ‘Familiars’ marks a more mature stage in the Antler’s career. The bleakly fantastic ‘Hospice’, a concept album with distorted chorus’s and introspective lyrics was their breaker, followed by critics favorite ‘Burst Apart’, full of cleaner production and anthemic choruses. The music from these two albums would have transferred well into a live setting, with crashing chords and sing alongs galore. ‘Familiars’ ultimately rejects this, with song’s being built around single chord sequences, light guitar licks, sonic horns and Peter Silbermans angelic falsetto style. It’s ideal music for a dark winter night, staring out your window, and wondering ‘Why did they have to cancel Firefly?’. The question is, how well does it transfer live?
I’m making a point of mentioning the night’s opener, Marika Hackman. Playing a short set of exclusively acoustic tracks, the set was largely underwhelming, with the majority of the stalls audience sitting on the floor. With that in mind, it suited the low key and relaxed feeling of the evening, and upon researching her music further, she seems far more interesting on record. Next time, bring more instruments!
Soon after, The Antlers took to the stage. The track-list for the evening was dominated by ‘Familiars’ with every song from the album being played. There was a feeling of cohesiveness to the evening, with the first three songs being played in the order you would find them on the album. ‘Palace’ was a magical first track, and probably the most gentle and un-energetic opening song I’ve ever seen live. Still, this does not mean it was dull to watch. Impressive multi-tasking from Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner, wielding keyboards and a variety of different horns akimbo style, began in the opener and continued for the rest of the show. The first deviation from Familiars, ‘Kettering’ was met with more cheer than the previous ‘Familiars’ tracks, perhaps due to a lack of familiarity with the newer record. It was performed in ‘Familiars’ style however, not pushing it out of place on the set list.
After about twenty minutes, Silberman graced us with a single word, ‘Hello’, before returning to another string of songs from ‘Familiars’. While there seemed a dip in the energy of the crowd in the midsection of the show, the intimate vibe and the feeling that Silberman was singing directly to you, making more eye contact than I felt comfortable with (No, I am NOT in love with you Peter *.*) kept me hooked. It’s worth noting that I was near the front and am a big fan, and so the lack of direct audience interactions and upbeat rhythm’s did not bother me. I can imagine that someone unfamiliar with the band, perhaps stuck at the back, might not have been as entertained.
After an hour of harmonious horns, heavenly high notes and heartbreaking lyrics, the setlist diversified, dipping into crowd pleasers like ‘I Don’t Want Love’ and ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’, all still retaining the stylistic instrumentation of ‘Familiars’. It was a refreshing change, and after a few short thank you’s from Silberman, it was time for the encore. This was by and large the best part of the show, and one of the most fantastic encores I’ve ever seen. The feeling of cohesiveness to the show was amplified by choosing to end with ‘Refuge’, ‘Familiars’ final track, and ‘Epilogue’, the final track from ‘Hospice’. Epilogue, originally exclusively acoustic, had been re-worked into an anthem, even-more-heartbreaking version in the ‘Familiars’ style. There were tears in the audience, something I’ve only seen at ‘The Flaming Lips’ concerts, and at hardcore/metal shows for substantially different reasons. One last goodbye, and it was over.
The whole event felt like a dream, slowly building, filling the room with sound, and ending as quick as one would wake up. Truly a unique experience, it’s still a show for the fan’s, and not one recommended to those unfamiliar with the band. That being said, go listen to The Antlers, have your heart broken worse than Ralph Wiggum, then get some tickets to see one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the U.S.A in recent years.
Hospice, The Antlers [Frenchkiss Records/2009]
Burst Apart, The Antlers [Transgressive Records/2011]
Familiars, The Antlers [Transgressive Records/2014]