The Antlers’ 2009 album Hospice hit the critical music scene with the force of a meteor. With lead singer Peter Silberman weaving a tale of heartbreak, loss and acceptance metaphorically through the eyes of a hospice worker and a terminally ill child, its keen emotional resonance left a crater that critics and fans alike were quick to heap with praise.
Like any group worth its salt, they’ve grown with subsequent releases to explore different musical textures and terrain. Each album marking a departure from comfortable ground, evolving towards new frontiers of self-expression. From the emotionally destructive stirrings of Hospice to the balanced calm of Familiars, we see a band that’s become comfortable with the outwards spiral of their progression. The stylistic growth evokes equal parts wisdom and maturity, having aged into a divergent mood from their earlier offerings.
With the new album Familiars having been released fewer than two weeks ago, the performance at the Mod Club challenged fans whose obvious attachment to the earlier material was undeniable. Overwhelming waves of affection radiated towards the stage, with polite hecklers unable to offer anything beyond declarations of love. The band, famed for their portrayal of introspection, found themselves incapable of reciprocating with more than light banter. A few mumbled thanks and brief introductions left little warmth in words, choosing instead to express themselves musically.
The audience responded appreciatively to new, relatively unknown songs such as opener Palace, with its twinkling dreamlike melody. Silberman’s lighter-than-air voice floated in gossamer weaves, with a performance eschewing heavy distortion for a more ethereal dream-pop feel. Doppleganger loomed, slick and seductive with smoky red lighting and meandering jazz trumpet. Receptive as the crowd was, it was clear that expectations of hearing a set of familiar anthems were dampened.
Possessing as intimate a back catalogue as possible, it’s hard not to hold a connection to beloved tracks. Witnessing the progression in a live environment then, with a flow that interweaved fresh material with cherished vintages, was akin to being viscerally pulled back and forth through the memories of an all-consuming relationship.
Parade, a sleepy, easy love letter to finding peace in relief stood in stark contrast to Sylvia‘s passionate fear of losing one you love to an inability to connect. This connection was evident in the crowd’s palpable joy at Sylvia’s opening beat, akin to tribal percussion. Thrumming synths rose and fell, the atmosphere an affectionate relapse into the opening excitement of a new romance.
Director wafted through the room like an intimate embrace with warm, lush arrangements then pulsed with the intensity of a deep, abiding longing. Hospice closer Epilogue shimmered like the innocent chimes of a baby mobile before giving way to fierce enveloping power chords.
By the time the opening chords of Putting the Dog to Sleep tiptoed in, the crowd was emotionally raw. The soulful Hammond organ and wavering vocals rang of sincerity before surging to a crescendo alongside fuzzy synths and tenacious beats, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Trumpets rose to the fore, sounding the last call and ushering in a state of awe.
For a band whose songs take as much as they give, the performance left the crowd humming. Excited titters filled the room as the line for the merch table swelled. If this was the response from fresh, untested material, one can only imagine the impact it’ll have once refined.