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Concert Review: The Antlers

Concert Review: The Antlers

Perhaps they should just play quiet shows for the rest of their career

The Old Church, Portland, OR
March 20, 2019

If you were to gather a hundred indie rock fans and ask them to create the most appealing concept for a show, it’s likely that they still wouldn’t come close to “The Antlers, performing Hospice in its entirety, as an acoustic duo, in a church.” After a four-year break from touring, the return of the band in a stripped-back form (multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci departed amicably this year, leaving just front man Peter Silberman and drummer Michael Lerner) feels like the best way for them to come back – a move which may also be the result of the “constant blizzard of tinnitus” Silberman reported suffering from when making his solo album, Impermanence. A look at the tour itinerary for their anniversary reissue of the album reveals a focus more on acoustically-conscious spaces, like churches and concert halls, than bog standard rock clubs; this tour, it seems, was engineered to be not just intimate, but as pristine as possible.

It would be easy to worry that the acoustic duo format would lack the sonic impact of the album. This is no half-assed tour, though, and the band – Silberman with an acoustic guitar, Lerner with a single snare drum and a pair of metal brushes – were joined by show opener Tim Mislock, who set the tone for the evening with a set full of haunting, spacious guitar loops. Mislock felt wholly necessary, helping to flesh out the layers of the band’s music that a simple guitar/drum combo just can’t manage, with his fretwork and pedal board replacing the horns of “Wake” and the shimmering wall of sound that closes “Atrophy,” the latter of which was done in abbreviated form here. It took Silberman a few minutes for his voice to reach those falsettos, but by the time he got to the second verse of “Sylvia,” he reached his full vocal potential, to the point where he deftly tackled Sharon Van Etten’s high notes in “Thirteen.”

There was an air of reverence for the material in a crowd that for the most part sat entirely silently. Every single song received thunderous applause, and the single instance of an audience member talking was met with frustrated shushing by those within earshot. Each song renewed the feeling that it was absurd to harbor worries about the format, with each rendition focusing on a song’s great bones. Towards the end of the performance, Silberman, who has spent the last decade holding his tongue about how autobiographical Hospice is, took a moment to address the legacy of the album to listeners who’ve been affected by it.

After a brief intermission, the trio returned to the stage to play several “golden oldies” (in Silberman’s words), running the gamut from Burst Apart bruisers “I Don’t Want Love,” “Corsica,” and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” (a natural show closer) to “Parade” and “Surrender” from 2014’s Familiars. They also touched on others from the Antlersverse, including “Drift Dive” from the Undersea EP and “Ahisma” from Silberman’s Impermanence. This set of songs saw the band in slightly more boisterous form, cracking jokes about a bottle clinking in between the first two songs of their second set. This was my fourth time seeing the band, and Silberman’s stage banter was just as soft as ever, but when taken out of the typical rock club environment, it felt all the more inviting.

Watching the show as a fan of Hospice felt bittersweet: some of these songs haven’t been played in years, and thanks to Silberman’s tinnitus, it’s entirely possible that we might not be able to see songs like “Bear” or “Two” in their in full, loud, danceworthy splendor for quite awhile, if ever again. But even if you can’t dance to the abortion anthem “Bear,” or shout “DON’T EVER/ LET ANYONE/ TELL YOU YOU DESERVE THAT” amidst the huge soundscapes of “Wake,” does it matter when what you get sounds this good? Seeing them in any form is a treat, and if every show the band play from here on out is as good as this, they can – and perhaps should – just play quiet shows for the rest of their career.

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