Before talking about the show itself, I think it’s important that I first mention where I saw The Antlers, as the venue itself contributed a lot to the night’s characterisation. The Antlers played Screen on the Green, buried in the very heart of Angel Islington, itself being a sort of hipster central forLondon. The Screen on the Green itself, as you may expect, is a venue reserved for concerts. Screen on the Green being an indie cinema, usually showing smaller foreign films (I think their current headline was Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In).
Although I knew this, for some reason I never made the connection in my head that cinema, with seats and aisles, would most likely mean I would be sitting down throughout the gig. This is an idea I am uncomfortable with. When I got inside, I overheard that there were supposedly only ten “official” standing areas in the actual theatre. It makes sense – it was really hard to stand anywhere there where you weren’t directly in someone’s way.
The seats themselves were actually the nicest I’ve ever seen in a cinema. More small armchairs than anything, they seemed fairly well padded and had a table for drinks resting on every other armrest. They also offered a fairly good view of the “screen”, which had been raised for the occasion. The standing areas were way at the back, behind all the seats. Naturally, I elected to stand.
No one was entirely sure when the band would arrive onstage – the sound check was done long before anyone actually got inside the theatre. They entered when the room was quite dark and the fog machines were on full throttle, so it was dramatic to say the least. Pete Silberman, frontman of The Antlers (and may I say after this occasion, a man after my own heart) took one look at the sitting situation and appeared that he, like myself, hadn’t really thought about how he felt about this. He approached the mic and coolly said “I don’t know how I feel about this whole sitting thing… Everyone, come closer. Come on.”
Being one to follow a frontman’s orders, I think I was one of the first to move, quickly abandoning the Screen on the Green’s authority in place for Silberman’s and getting a position towards the front of the stage fairly quickly. Some of the older people (and the “too-for-Silberman” hipsters) in the audience chose to remain sitting, though most of the crowd simply stood up where their seats where, as they had plenty of room.
They band started with the opening track from Burst Apart, “I Don’t Want Love”. It was something I was expecting, but I was still somewhat taken aback by it. I’m not sure what I thought a live performance from The Antlers would be, but still, hearing the opening few seconds of that song sort of drove home the point of, “Oh wait. I am actually seeing The Antlers live”. It was giddy feeling, along with the first-two songs only no-flash photography rule that caused some of the less-than-perfect images, and for this I apologise.
I confess when I first heard the leak of the SXSW show where The Antlers performed Burst Apart in its entirety before the albums release, I didn’t get it, and when the record was released I vastly preferred the studio versions. I’ve seen the error of my fragile beliefs. You see, Burst Apart is an album made to be performed live (though with a familiarity to the tracks, admittedly). That felt obvious the second “I Don’t Want Love” was over – although it did send chills down my spine, it felt more like a preparation song. I was glad to realise they were actually just playing Burst Apart in order. The next song, “French Exit” was never a favourite of mine, but the sheer power of the performance sold me on it. In that room, it would have been impossible to hear a jet. The Antlers were leaving you no room to look to your friend and say “that was pretty cool” – I’m afraid the look was all they would permit you. Almost all of the songs they performed were extended plays of the Burst Apart songs – it felt like since the studio release, they had really captured the character of these songs and perfected them. At the same time, though, I loved that at times the band were clearly just allowing themselves to get carried away.
No song better exemplifies this, or came as more of a surprise to me than “Parentheses”, the third song on Burst Apart. I knew the album well and honestly thought the show wouldn’t really begin until “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out”. How wrong I was! The version of “Parentheses” I heard that night was so much longer, darker, louder and more impactful than the studio recording, the instant it was over I knew it was the clear winner of the night. The intro and quieter moments of the song had their ambience and darkness magnified ten fold, and when the song got into the chorus, it was louder and more energetic than I could have imagined. When the main, recognisable progression of the song kicked in, the band thrashed more violently on stage than I thought possible for The Antlers, and the quick, bright lighting cutting between the garish colours was a brilliant choice for the song. “Parentheses” – the greatest surprise of that night.
However, after the song, we met with an unfortunate surprise. Remember my earlier point that Screen on the Green did not seem like a venue accustomed to shows like this? My fears were proven all too legit.
The drummer for the band, Michael Lerner, seemed to have gotten so into “Parentheses” that he somehow broke his hi-hat. This was bad news, to say the least. Someone ran on stage to help him, and may I say that Silberman, Cicci (keyboardist) and I believe Timothy Mislock handled the scenario like champs. They looked at each other, and seemingly with a nod knew to “play ambient noises until this mess is resolved”, which they did very well. So well in fact that at first, until I saw poor Lerner adjusting the hi-hat I thought it was just a long intro for the next song (which would make sense, considering it’s the slow, detached “No Windows”).
However, when the issue refused to be resolved, Silberman approached the mic and told us “I’m not ganna tell jokes, but I will play an old song for you, and hopefully when I’m done this will be over”.
And that is how, completely by surprise, we got to hear “Bear” in the middle of a Burst Apart gig. Admittedly, a very Silberman-centric version of “Bear”, but “Bear” nonetheless. He played it quite slowly, as if to make sure the hi-hat issue had been resolved when he finished, however, the lighting was so perfect and he played so perfectly that it appeared the whole thing had been rehearsed.
When the hi-hat had been fixed, the band joked they wouldn’t play old songs every time something broke, and continued with “No Windows”. There was a lot of pressure on them now, as the song had to live up to the wait. They played their hearts out for “No Windows”, but the song was not the huge burst from the downtime we needed. The song was obviously meant to be the wind down after “Parentheses” and before “Rolled Together”. It was an interested rendition, and was one of the songs in the show that felt most prog-rock, and if not for technical difficulties it would have been perfectly placed. However, in this unfortunate performance, it felt like it was prolonging the show. And I really like “No Windows”.
Luckily, the band surprised us again with “Rolled Together”. The song progressed as one would expect, but when the band where done chanting “rolled together with a burning paper heart”, they exploded into a wall of loud, unadulterated rock. It was a truly satisfying build, and it was great to hear them prolong the song because they were having such a good song. Another favourite of the evening.
Silberman thanked us all for staying up so late with them, and moved into the next song. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” was as loud and hard as the night led me to expect, and “Corsicana” managed to feel just as personal and affecting, even though it wasn’t as loud as the other songs. It was another moment where you just felt incredibly grateful to see the band live. Especially if you were a fan.
They band skipped “Tiptoe”, and moved straight into “Putting the Dog to Sleep”, the final song on Burst Apart. This was a song I think we were all looking forward too, and another prime example of a song meant to be played live. The continuing loud banging chord that makes “Putting the Dog to Sleep” what it is meant to be deafening. It’s meant to make you jump every time it’s played, and the way it was so violently and passionately played that night really drove the song home. A while back, The Antlers covered a Pink Floyd song for the Onion’s AV club, and the influence of that band felt pretty apparent here. It was a song that felt distant despite how loud and powerful it was, and when it built towards the end, it becomes something to behold. A band on the top of their form, playing a song they stitched together perfectly.
Surprisingly, we actually did get an encore from The Antlers (I saw Lerner give a thumbs up to one of the sound guys as they left the stage, so… Yeah, maybe not so surprising). When the band started playing, at first I thought it was a new song. The drums were consistent and tribal-sounding, with the guitar and keyboard brought quietly to the background. When the singing started, though, we realised it was in fact “Sylvia”. An unrecognisable version of the song, but a damned interesting one. When Silberman sang the titular “Sylvia” line of the song, instead of an explosion of sound, the song would die down, returning to the tribal sounding percussion. The bassist played the recognisable tones of the song towards the end, and we were left with a haunting, interesting take of the song echoing throughout the room.
If one thing was proven to me that night, it is that The Antlers are professionals. They know how to carry a show, they know how to absorb and audience and they’re not afraid to dramatically alter songs for the performance. They powered through whatever technical problems they had and played so well, so loud and so fast that it was hard not to become lost in the show. For strangers to The Antlers, it makes for a strong first impression, for fans, it’s essential.