I spent most of the Antlers’ set at Northampton’s tiny, almost empty Iron Horse Music Hall wondering why they weren’t doing it for me. When I wasn’t thinking about this I was considering wearing earplugs to shows and I was thinking about where I was going to catch the bus back to where I live and wondering if it was possible to read four parts of Virgil’s Aeneid in twenty-four hours (fortunately, it’s possible, but I don’t recommend it). This is an issue because when I go to a good show I can think of nothing but lyrical and sound progressions and what’s going to be next, what’s going to be next? I don’t care about my inevitable hearing loss or bus schedules or homework, especially. I don’t care about making a fool of myself with ridiculous dance moves and ecstatic cheering when the band breaks out some classic jam. I don’t think about why this is working or why this isn’t working. If I did think about all these things, I would probably have no place reviewing concerts. I was a little upset with myself that I let my mind wander so much, but customarily when you are in the front row watching a band perform a bunch of tracks from their breathtaking album you have to try to let your mind go elsewhere.
When I listen to the Antlers’ album Hospice I sit there and think about why it is so amazing. It is a great concept album for our time. It is, at the same time, depressing and uplifting – an incredible feat for anyone, let alone three twenty-somethings. When I first listened to "Wake": “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that!” What a lyric that is! How many questions does that ask? How many hearts does that break? And how many does it put back together? I used to drive home from work listening to "Two" and yelling “HAD A LITTLE DREAM IT WAS MORE LIKE A NIGHTMARE” gesturing at nothing with a clenched fist. Hospice is a fantastic album. It is a beautiful melancholy creature. I hope it will go down as the classic it is, but only time will tell.
Live, the band have incredible energy, especially for music so depressing. I mean, you can predict with only rudimentary knowledge of their music that Ra Ra Riot will be energetic live, and that Conor Oberst might not necessarily be bounding around on stage. I couldn’t have predicted that the Antlers would be so lively, but they were. However, usually I have found that when a band is energetic live that energy is infectious and you feel it all over you and you have to dance and you have to yell and you have to walk out of that show all sweaty thinking “that was awesome.” Not so in this situation. Whatever Peter Silberman was stomping his foot for (with such force that it shook the floor), I couldn’t feel it.
What doesn’t add up here is how a band with a great album and great energy can’t put it together and pull it off live. Certainly, they performed well, and with accuracy, but it was altogether a forgettable experience, which is strange because Hospice is so memorable. But what is it that makes Hospice memorable? The story it tells? Live, I felt like the story was almost completely lost, masked in unnecessary loudness and feedback, and with it the incredible punch in the face that Hospice delivers was nowhere to be found. The music seems out of context when the words are unintelligible. My advice: more vocal, less everything else. Silberman’s voice, that soft ghostly falsetto, is as much an instrument as every conventional one – every pedal Darby Cicci intently fiddled with, either guitar, either gently rolled crash cymbal – and it struck me perhaps the hardest when I couldn’t hear it how incredibly, incredibly important it is.
Photos by Simone Budzyn