The Antlers


Of the many venues that an indie-folk band could play, one that doesn’t immediately come to mind is the Dancehouse. Plain and simple, it’s a theatre, but perhaps the setting of the gig reveals intention – to bring something different, to celebrate the album in question by placing it in the context of high art. Assuming the form of elite-class entertainment, I sit down at the top of the stalls, only to realise one huge problem – a lack of air conditioning is so unbearable, people around me roll up their trousers, to little avail. So, in this review, I want to give some time to talk to the Dancehouse directly – please, I beg of thee, for the sake of all that is worthy, get some air conditioning in that hall, so that no audience there has to cook like flambéed chicken again. Not able to solve the issue now, however, the only option is to turn attention to the ensemble of instruments standing before us, that would be used to recreate this now-classic LP.

The band’s touring musician, Tim Mislock, is the first man to walk on stage, setting the scene of the gig with drawn-out ambient music, but not how Eno does it. Constructing epic waves just with a guitar and loop machine, he provides an excellent demonstration of the versatility of the guitar – it’s a spectacle watching the many ways he is able to strain out unexpected sounds. Though at times it can be patience-testing, with compositions crawling at the speed of post-rock, it allows for a deeply immersive experience that forgoes the typical cerebral characteristics of ambience. The tracks Tim gives us are inspired by the experience of being an Alzheimer’s caretaker, and few can paint that feeling of desolation as he can with a minimal set of tools.

Into the dimly-lit theatre hall steps the main attraction, frontman Peter Silberman and the rest of The Antlers. The on-stage production is incredibly stripped-back, as the drums softly rumble while overly-exaggerated head nods coordinate the guitars together. Just three occupy the vast stage space, and rarely do all three play in unison, adhering to the Phil Elverum-esque lo-fi quality of The Antlers’ material. Encompassing them is a glass atmosphere, easily broken by the clicking of a pedal, yet the audience remain at attention to Peter Silberman’s frail vocals. It could all seem quite confusing that, even for a folk or post-rock show, the performance is as bare-bones as it is, but the album it aims to re-create is a particularly disorienting effort.

Hospice is a potentially autobiographical story surrounding a just-blossoming but emotionally-abusive relationship between a terminally-ill bone cancer patient and male hospice worker. Silberman even put himself under a self-imposed exile, Bon Iver-style, to pen these songs, further contributing to what became a record that is so effectively chilling, it generated enough buzz to be signed to reputable label Frenchkiss, and became its most celebrated release. Ten years on at the Dancehouse, Hospice is just as stirring, levelling off to the intimacy of The Microphones’ best work, and peaking at similar heights to Arcade Fire’s vibrant debut album.

However, with the gig playing in a theatre comes the unfortunate killing of that usual gig atmosphere, swapped out with the sort of overboard seriousness one could find at the cinema. Any rustling, movement, or, god forbid, singalong is shot down by shunning and shushing, it is like being inside a fused bomb, and the tenseness of the audience could have been loosened with audience engagement from Peter, which only happens near the end of the album’s playthrough, rather than the beginning.

Once finishing ‘Epilogue’, the band moves onto songs outside of Hospice, the most enjoyable section of the entire gig; the songs come from the more traditional side of folk, much more relaxed, to which the audience responds equally. Friendly heckles and jokes in between songs ease the tension, and the result is the only part of the show where that bubbly gig atmosphere truly works in a theatre environment.

Though it may seem that my impression of the show is quite negative, it is a worthwhile celebration of an achievement of a record. Sure, one could imagine how much of a trudge it could be if you aren’t loving every song, but it’s a tour for the fans, and a smile-widening one at that.

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