Live Review: The Antlers @ Screen on the Green, London 24/8/11
The scene was set for this most special of gigs. A small, unassuming cinema in North London, big comfy red sofas, an empty high street and lots of highly charged early twenty somethings trying to hide their anticipation by tweeting as the clock edged towards midnight.
The American indie band The Antlers have undergone something of a renaissance since the release of their album Burst Apart. Its predecessor Hospice, quite literally an album designed to mirror the process of grieving in response to someone with a terminal illness was a colossal, ghastly, tender, confusing record. It was bold and at the same time such a strong concept that it came to pretty much define the band since its 2009 release. Its album cover depicted a hospital patient’s hand, identified by a hospital wrist band, falling into the hand of someone else. It was unrelentingly bleak. Yet how could it be followed? Another critical and (within its niche) commercial success followed that attracted more interest, inviting fans into The Antlers’ wildly ambitious environs.
The cinema setting was perfect for this gig. The Antlers are not, by their own admission I’m sure, a band to get people dancing. Rather their music is reflective and emotional, a band to get people thinking and feeling rather than moving. As lead singer and guitarist Peter Silberman and co appeared (seemingly from the cinema’s toilets) and invited everyone forward, the front few rows shuffled to the stage. I hoped they would begin with a tongue-in-cheek reference to their setting by playing the ubiquitous theme from Pearl & Dean.
Opening into the first track from Burst Apart, the set led best foot forward. Clear, rolling guitars filled the room and with ‘I Don’t Want Love’ we were underway, Silberman’s unique high-pitched falsetto sounding more vivid and sweetly defined than I’ve ever heard it. Silberman doesn’t so much sing, as let his lungs give way and soar and swoon, as though he is about to take off. His head rolls and his eyes occasionally screw up, as though he is making an effort to re-live the inception of the song, or disappear into a gentler, more re-assuring world in which his fears and anguish are assuaged. The significance of ‘Parentheses’, the lead single, is somewhat lost in this melee as the full album is played through, the grand context of Burst Apart coming to life and finally realising itself.
In my opinion this album sounded better live than it does on record. The transition to the live arena was so clear that Burst Apart almost sounds like a different album, analogous with a polished, re-mastered film being stripped of everything, the re-workings dropped, and restored back to its former glory, brilliant and warm. ‘Rolled Together’ and ‘Corscicana’ were particularly poignant, both pained and tender laments in which Silberman emanates a gentle vocal melody into a swirling wind of effects. These songs lapped at the ears of the audience and brought us unexpectedly and quietly closer together. Some people around me glanced at each other, giving amazed looks that Silberman could sustain such impossibly high-pitched dulcet tones for so long.
The set closed on a song from Hospice, the second one of the night after the band decided to play an impromptu version of ‘Bear’ following some technical difficulties. Perhaps the most well known song from that album, ‘Sylvia’ rang out in this now tired but involved and fully immersed cinema audience. Delivering Burst Apart in a live setting was always going to be tough. I have been to gigs where slow-burner, emotive and occasionally exhausting indie music has felt like a drag when taken out of its specifically aural confines, and audiences stand around, achy, even ignoring the band sometimes for a chat that can drown out the music: but not here. The setting (cinemas, I think, should be used more often for gigs from a certain kind of band), and mostly the band’s personal dedication to make this event live up to its ‘special’ billing made it a unique and touching event. Silberman’s sorry, grand, mawkish, stimulating ensemble should do this again. Burst Apart did itself justice yesterday, as a complicated and engrossing record.