The Antlers put out one of my favorite records of 2009, a cathartic song cycle about, well, death, called Hospice. There’s no new Antlers record, but the band was back in Chicago again last night (April 22), stretching out those Hospice songs into art-rock epics. Peter Silberman, who started Antlers as a solo project, kept his voice floating up in high falsetto territory most of the night, with confident backing from Michael Lerner on drums and Darby Cicci on keyboards and bass pedals. The guitars and keyboards often melded together into amorphous washes, making it hard to tell who what playing exactly what. The band played one new song — and I have a photo of the set list, taken from a weird angle, where the title is hard to make out. “TEGNB6KK”? Sorry, that’s all I got for you on that.
The opening act was New York electronic-and-guitar duo Phantogram, who played an entertaining set of melodic songs, sounding like a real live band rather than the preprogrammed stuff you get at concerts by some electronic acts. Films of random street scenes and geometric patterns played on the screen behind Phantogram.
See my photos of the Antlers and Phantogram.
The Antlers were one of the bands I caught for a few minutes as I was racing around Union Park during the Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this summer. I liked what I heard, but it wasn’t the best way to experience a new band. Since then, I’ve been listening to the Antlers’ album, Hospice, and it just keeps burrowing deeper into my brain. This could be one of the year’s best CDs. The subject matter is dark — this is a song cycle about a terminally ill child in hospice — and yet, like some narratives about painful topics, Hospice feels cathartic at times, soothing at other moments. The music shifts, too, from soaring and powerful rock to hushed meditations. Singer-songwriter Peter Silberman often sings in a falsetto, and the music sometimes sounds a little like Radiohead, a little like the Arcade Fire, but original in the way these influences blend together.
The Antlers played Monday night (Sept. 21) at Chicago’s Subterranean, and the songs sounded beautiful live. The set included all the songs on Hospice except the first two tracks (“Prologue” and “Kettering”), plus the song “Cold War” for the encore. Silberman and his bandmates (Michael Lerner on drums and Darby Cicci on keyboards and bass pedals) delivered the music like a pretty typical band, without a lot of showmanship. In his stage presence, Silberman offers few hints that he is singing lyrics that seem to be revealing private secrets. He’s not one of those musicians who turns songs into dramatic shows. Just as well, I suppose — the music might be just too much to take if he did. I still sensed that the Antlers fans in the crowd who knew the songs well were feeling some of that catharsis in the way they responded.
Photos of the Antlers.