“Maybe it’s just Thursday,” remarked Antlers leader Peter Silberman to a packed crowd at Lincoln Hall, “but it feels like there’s magic in the air.” The resulting roar of approval and the alternating moments of fragile quiet and powerful release throughout the band’s memorable set indicated that Silberman may have been on to something.
The Brooklyn-based trio of Silberman, keyboardist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner returned, after playing in February at The Vic with popular UK act Editors, as a headliner to Chicago, in support of the critically acclaimed 2009 LP Hospice. The buzz surrounding the album and a Chicago fan base bolstered by multiple local performances during the past year made the show a weekday sellout, and the band delivered a solid hour and a half set focused largely on Hospice but featuring a smattering of songs from prior releases, a bit of new material, and a dirge-like cover of “VCR,” made popular by Londoners The xx.
Atmosphere was a key to The Antlers’ performance, and the stage show was simple yet effective. Contrasting with a completely dark house, the stage was bathed in alternating monochromatic light for much of the set, and blasts of smoke encircled the band and created a haze that reached to the back of the venue. Small potted plants sat atop Silberman’s effects setup and Cicci’s weathered Rhodes piano, and added a subtle contrast to songs fixated upon illness and death (Hospice is a concept album revolving around a medical worker’s blossoming relationship with a terminal cancer patient).
Any concern that slow tempos and a general funereal quality to most of the band’s songs would make for a less-than-compelling performance was quickly allayed. As frontman, Silberman was surprisingly talkative, and the band’s emotional, energetic stage presence gave a drive to the songs that is present in the recordings could potentially have been difficult to reproduce effectively in a live setting. Lerner’s drums and a programmed bass track gave punch to the swells of guitar and ambient sound that accompanied the louder portions of songs like Hospice standouts and fan favorites “Two” and “Kettering.” Silberman’s voice, alternating between a falsetto reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and a controlled tenor, nicely filled the room and held most of Lincoln Hall’s two levels at attention for the duration of the show.
In just nine months since their abbreviated appearance at the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival, The Antlers have become vastly more assured as a live band and the songs of Hospice have taken on new qualities that can only be discovered through performing them night in and night out. The band’s next performance in Chicago takes place at this summer’s incarnation of the Lollapalooza festival, and checking them out is highly recommended. More information about the band, Hospice and upcoming concerts can be found at their official Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/theantlers .