Hanbury Club, 5 March 2010
One of the problems with creating an album as dense, ethereal and sonically ambitious as The Antler’s Hospice, is that at some point you will need to replicate its charms in a live environment. Not only this, but as the album is the kind of work that could only really become popular through word of mouth (its central concept is the helpless sense of loss engendered by watching someone you love dying of cancer), the band are somewhat limited in terms of the venue size and sound quality they have to work with.
The Antlers take to the stage at the Hanbury Club with the minimum of fanfare and begin building the tension with heavy tombstone slabs of percussion and feedback drenched guitar enveloped in a shimmering keyboard haze. Working their way through Hospice pretty much from start to finish, they sound unhurried, almost methodical in their approach, giving every song time and space to unfold through the static, reverential crowd.
As such, the first couple of songs slip by fairly unobtrusively, and it is not until ‘Silvia’ with its soft metallic humming and sudden explosions of wrought emotion that the band unleash the considerable power of their abilities. Pete Silberman’s voice veers between calm, constrained dignity and an almost terrifyingly raw falsetto and acts as a counterpoint to the relentless cacophony of Michael Lerner’s drums and the range of spectral sounds emanating from Darby Cicci’s keyboard. These elements fuse together to incredible effect on record, and the band push the capabilities of their three instrument set-up in the live setting, placing huge emphasis on the atmospherics of each track.
‘Two’ is shorn of its delicate acoustic guitar and voice opening in favour of a wall of noise approach that builds to a climax of crashing drums and heady, swirling guitar. Similarly, ‘Bear’, one of the more straightforward and cleanly arranged songs on Hospice, is slowed down and elongated live as the band look to extract every ounce of emotive tension from its brittle frame, and push it towards an epic climax.
This continued attempt to turn every one of the album’s tracks into an epic works very well in the context of individual songs (‘Atrophy’ in particular sounds amazing), but over the course of an evening it starts to lose its effect. Indeed, when combined with the in-built emotional weight that the songs already contain, it makes for an experience that is often genuinely uncomfortable rather than moving. In fairness this may not be solely the fault of the band, as tonight they are sadly let down by a sound system that occasionally screeches feedback from Silberman’s microphone and generally fails to mix the band’s components into a coherent whole throughout the set.
However, in all it is still a huge pleasure to witness music this good unfold in a live context, and the band’s considerable strengths far outweigh any complaints. Here’s hoping that by the time they return to these shores it is in a venue that is big enough to accommodate their considerable vision.
What did you think of the gig?
Lee: “I’m really disappointed because for me they made the best album of last year, but tonight they were really deadened by the sound. The PA system was awful so when the vocals should have sounded fragile they sounded lost and when they went dramatic the instruments just sounded isolated.”
Annabel: “I didn’t really like them when I first heard them but what a venue! It was beautiful and they were brilliant. They are a real aura band, and what a voice!”
Serena: “It was a bit sad, to be honest. It was pretty much about cancer.”
Johnny: “I thought they were incredible. I’ve got Hospice and it is one of the best albums ever made, ever. That’s a fact. It was amazing seeing them in such an intimate venue and that guys voice was just insanely good.”
Words by Daniel Pearson