I have a bit of a weird history with The Antlers. Not, like, personally. It’s just that one of their (arguably) best albums, Hospice, was something I found when I was in the depths of a deep depression. I won’t ever forget how much it tore up my heart to listen to “Bear” for the first time and how heartbreaking those lyrics were. Tonight, I entered Great American Music Hall, but found myself back in that darkened apartment, whiskey in hand, tears soaking my face.
But before we get to crying, we should talk about Yellow Ostrich. This indie rock outfit from Brooklyn definitely stuck in my mind long after the show was over. Their songs felt like they were cooked low and slow, building to an eventual boiling over of guitar, drum, and bass solos. Frontman Alex Schaaf’s voice spun its way through the entire song, like a guiding thread to hold on to through the building waves of sound. They closed their set with one of my favorite songs, “Marathon Runner.” It exemplifies their style, and served as the perfect finisher, leaving the crowd on a very nice upswing.
It didn’t take too long for The Antlers to take the stage, shrouded in shadow. After taking their positions, they stood in the darkness for the briefest of moments. A gentle tapping on the hi-hat brought in a gentle trickling of soft piano notes, which soon gave way to the iconic trumpet sounds that signaled the intro to “Palace.”
Peter Silberman’s voice started to weave its magical spell, backed by the rich tableau of sound coming from keyboardist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner. Enchanted, the crowd began to sway back and forth, practically hypnotized by the dreamy, ethereal quality that was so iconic in their music. A few songs in, the immediately recognizable intro of “Kettering” off of the Hospice album struck up, and the crowd stirred not one bit… until Silberman started singing.
At that moment, everybody was part of the show. My hearing phased in and out, between Silberman’s otherworldly voice and the crowd echoing the desperate pleas described in the lyrics. His eyes locked on some distant place far away from the concert hall, Silberman continued tugging at heartstrings. His voice seemed to go straight from his mouth to the very core inside each and every one of us, leaving us laid bare. And just as we fall deeper down into the rabbit hole with him, the cruel dissonance of his guitar and the rising drum fills connect, leaving us jarred and conflicted.
But the song slowly came back down, as if apologizing for having yelled, and soothed the crowd back into the spell that is still so expertly being woven. Their set continued, and so many times throughout, I found myself questioning whether I was dreaming or not.
I kept looking back at the crowd, for a sympathetic face, maybe someone to tell me it’s going to be okay, but the only thing I heard was the neverending, perennial onslaught of pure, raw emotion coming from the performance before me. After the relatively upbeat feeling of “Director,” we found ourselves back in the hospice with “Sylvia,” and then a quick jaunt over to “Revisited.” A lot of these tracks are incredibly intricate and complex with their tightly interwoven melodies, so when the incredibly stark acoustic intro of “Epilogue” came in, it was a welcome respite.
However, what that song may lack in production or complexity, it makes up for in emotional impact. What starts as a few acoustic chords grows into something more, where every pain-drenched lyric bristles with razors that cut deeply into our minds, and leave memories that will last quite some time. The end of “Epilogue” is fitting to the album it’s attached to, as Silberman wails about being haunted by the ghost of a girlfriend long since gone from his life.
His sentiments echo in the chambers of each of our hearts, and as we all stand, looking up at the stage, we’re all left alone in the silence for a moment. We are alone with our memories and a freshly reawakened awareness of just exactly where we are standing.
It’s this moment, and the many others like it that immediately come to mind when I think of this show. It’s that jarring feeling of falling back to Earth after being lost in your memories for a while, and finding out once again that you’re in public, surrounded by people experiencing the same awakening.
After playing nearly the entirety of their new album, Familiars, they depart the stage. Everyone stands, soaking in the past hour. Nobody really leaves, nobody moves, but they’re all excitedly waiting, refusing to acknowledge that they’re waking up from the dream. But before we could find ourselves truly lost, the band came back out on stage for the encore.
They kicked it off with the first track off of their 2011 album, Burst Apart. We were all too eager to drift back into the silky smooth sheets that made up this entire album, so when “I Don’t Want Love” started to play, it was welcomed by plenty of smiling faces. The winding, wailing end of that song bridged absolutely perfectly into the grand finale.
Haunting organ chords began to emanate from the exhausted amps, starting the dirge that is “Putting The Dog To Sleep.” The song starts with:
Prove to me… I’m not gonna die alone
Put your arm around my collar bone
And open the door
I had to look around me again. I took a moment from being enthralled and looked at everybody in the crowd; young, old, happy, sad, sober, drunk, whatever. Each of them were looking up at the stage, and it was just the most surreal thing to see everybody, at the same time, sing, “I’m not gonna die alone.” I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show where I’ve been just as equally touched by the emotion coming from the stage and the crowd. Every bit of me felt the emotional riptide pulling me down, and I let it carry me under once again.
There’s something undeniably haunting about The Antlers. Something about them and their music sticks with you long after the last note. It’s reflected in the way people talk about this band. From the constant debates about whether “Bear” is about an abortion or not, to what exactly the meaning of “Putting The Dog To Sleep” is, to what “Sylvia” symbolizes.
The Antlers are a band that isn’t afraid to be real. They aren’t afraid to talk about some really vulnerable topics in their songs, and not in the fronting, posturing way that most musicians often use. Rather, they are always tender, they are always open and honest about how the pain feels. Anyone would be damned to not be able to relate. The Antlers will make you feel their pain, because sometimes, that’s where the understanding lies. It lies in being able to share and understand each others’ struggles and pain, no matter how major or minor.
Like the ghost of a relationship long since past, The Antlers and this entire show will linger in the back of my mind for years to come. And I couldn’t be happier to be so haunted.
Photos © 2014 Jessica Lachenal, unless otherwise noted.