In listening to The Antlers’ critically acclaimed and all-around fantastic album Hospice, I found it hard to imagine seeing the songs performed in a live setting and having it be an enjoyable experience. In fact, I am surprised that Peter Silberman actually turned his bedroom project into a touring entity. The songs on Hospice are as painful as they are brilliant, like the film Requiem For A Dream or the book Where The Red Fern Grows, making it seem like masochism to perform the songs on a nightly basis. But, a bigger question than how the songs affect the band is how the weight of the music would rest on an audience, especially an audience who’s majority is there to see the band playing immediately after, especially a Los Angeles (we boo the Lakers when they have 1 bad quarter!) audience full of fans of Editors. Add on top of that the large-ish size of the evening’s venue, The Wiltern, and you could say I had my doubts about whether the three-piece could pull it off.
As far as being able to fill a rather large stage, The Antlers more than had their work cut out for them. Holding more than 2,000 people when filled, The Wiltern is one of the largest small venues in the area, or one of the smallest large venues, depending on whether you are more of a Muse person or an Animal Collective person. It hosts bands of the caliber of The Decemberists and The National, but is a place i usually avoid unless necessary. It is a Live Nation venue, and I’m a little bit afraid of them, so let’s leave it at that. But the harsh realities were unavoidable. The parking was going to cost more than my show tickets usually cost, a tee-shirt would cost more than the actual price of admission and the show would inexplicably begin at 7:15 p.m. (This was a performance from Princeton, the current artist in residence on Monday nights at Spaceland)
The Antlers began their 35 minute set to a half-filled room promptly at 8, with singer/guitarist Silberman singing the opening of “Kettering” with hushed keyboard backup. The first thing to notice? Silberman’s voice sounds amazing live. Because of the way Hospice is recorded, with everything sitting at the same level in the mix, his voice doesn’t so much get lost as it blends in. But the high ceiling of The Wiltern and great sound mixing put Silberman’s wavering, high-pitched notes (he would have made a great 80’s hair band singer) in the forefront and it was impressive to say the least. The band, though, found their nitch with their second song “Sylvia”. I had tried to wrap my head around what Editors and The Antlers would be doing on the same bill, and the answer became clear when the chorus of “Sylvia” hit: the theater of it all. The Editors make their business on an over-the-top sound and if you think about, just the idea of the concept album Hospice is about theatrical as it comes. And live, The Antlers milked it. Silberman did not seem overly serious, but he was earnest and seemed to mean every word that came through the PA.
Unfortunately, this is L.A. and The Antlers were lucky to get two song’s worth of attention out of these Editors’ fans. During “Bear”, which was slowed down quite a bit to build to an even grander crescendo, the noise of the crowd talking matched the band’s volume. The Antlers create subtle and moody music, so it was almost unfair to put them on in this situation, but they had a loud noise jam finale to shut the crowd up (or at least drown them out) every time it was needed. These noisy finales created an effect like the album, with each song running into each other and with only minor pauses when there were any.
The Antlers’ fans in the audience made their presence known at the introduction of “Two”. Like most of the songs performed, major reworking was added for the live performance and (it seemed like at least) elements from other songs were merged together. “Two” began with a new harmonizing piece that would be used for the bridge and outro as well. And though impressive in its breathless vocal delivery, this song belonged to drummer Michael Lerner. Until this point, neither of the backing members had much to do except play loud and insert the subtle textures that make the music special. But on “Two”, Lerner was in charge of setting the mood with the drums, as it would be hard for a new listener to follow the vocal narrative. Each verse stanza was accompanied with a change in drum beat, each moving the song in constant forward motion until it reached it’s emotional climax.
As for Editors, the obvious comparisons to Interpol and Joy Division came to mind. But, I think I would liken them more to Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s “Dracula: The Musical” bit. But, instead of puppets, it was performed by the some bros who manage a pizzeria or sell phones at mall kiosks. They did give The Antlers to play a large stage, though larger than I would have liked, which was handled with the expertise of a band who could grow accustomed to such attention. And deservedly so.
Photography by Jesse Bloch.
The Antlers Setlist (Approximate):
In This Light and On This Evening
An End Has a Start
You Dont Know Love
The Big Exit
Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool
The Racing Rats
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
Bricks and Mortar?
Walk the Fleet Road
Fingers in the Factories