THE ANTLERS live at Center Church. New Haven CT. 9/23/12
As the sun began to set on the New Haven Green yesterday, a legion of pale, shivering couples huddled close to each other outside of Center Church, waiting to get inside. Fall was in the air, and The Antlers were in town to ring in the new season with their emotional brand of atmospheric pop. Although the band’s music has become increasingly dreamy as they have evolved, seeing them at the onset of autumn provided concertgoers with the opportunity to nostalgize the cold months of 2009, when I and so many others clutched our copies of Hospice and sobbed until long after the final acoustic plucks of “Epilogue” had faded into the ether.
But just as the seasons change, so too must bands develop. By the release of last year’s visionary full length Burst Apart, Peter Silberman’s pet project had solidified into a full band, and with this development came a profound stylistic shift. Garish bursts of lo-fi shoegaze gave way to lucid guitar lines, and pining acoustic elegies were replaced by mournful dream pop. The Undersea EP, released earlier this year, marked the completion of this shift; it was utterly (and disappointingly) aqueous in both form and concept.
Even though their earlier work will always be most dear to my heart, it’s clear that the Antlers’ new direction has struck a chord with some younger artists. This was undoubtedly evident during the performance of Port St. Willow, who opened the show around 8 PM to a raptly attentive audience inside the colonial-era church. Much like The Antlers once were, Port St. Willow is officially a solo project; however, frontman Nick Principe is being joined by a keyboard player and drummer on this tour. Together, the power trio created a remarkably expansive sound that reverberated through the walls of the church. They opened their set with a continuous 30-minute suite that channeled the post-rock catharsis of Sigur Ros and the atmospheric qualities of The Antlers’ own records. Principe’s voice in particular — a lofty coo with seemingly limitless upward range — strikingly recalled that of Peter Silberman. The band performed music mostly from their new full length album Holiday, which is available to stream or purchase now from Bandcamp.
Port St. Willow’s meditative, restrained energy provided a perfect introduction to The Antlers’ headlining performance, which began shortly after the openers left the stage. Despite operating with the same four-piece lineup that they had when I saw them play at The Space in June 2011, it was remarkable to me how immediately different the atmosphere of this show felt. Part of that was due to the venue — a beautiful old church built in the 1600s — which added a gorgeous amount of natural reverb to the band’s collective sound. This effect was demonstrated rather by accident during the opening song “Drift Dive,” when the PA cut out towards the end and the band went on playing without vocal amplification or microphones until the song was over. In the final few seconds, Peter Silberman set down his guitar, and with his hands cupped around his mouth like an emphatic preacher, he projected a wordless wail down the old church’s central aisle. It was a surprisingly audible moment that, for a moment, felt nothing short of miraculous.
Once the PA began working again, the band settled into a set that leaned heavily on newer material, from the slow burn of Burst Apart’s “Rolled Together” and “No Widows” to Undersea’s dragging “Endless Ladder,” which built itself up in its Pink Floyd-reminiscent first half only to dissolve into a sonic puddle in the final four minutes. Thankfully, the rest of Undersea (which they played in full) sounded much more convincing at high volume. Although there was something oddly jarring about hearing the moody, sexualized throb that pervades Undersea’s “Crest” and most of Burst Apart in such a sanctified setting, it would be hard to describe the breathtaking climax that the Antlers brought to “Rolled Together” last night as anything but divine.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show for me was the way in which the band amended and changed the older material that they played. A three song suite from Hospice occupied the middle of the set, and although the songs themselves had not changed, the live arrangements were drastically different in some respects from the recorded versions. “Kettering” was slowed down to a sludgy, glacial pace that made it seem frustratingly aimless, as did the final verse of the anthem “Sylvia,” in which Silberman traded the subtlety and nuance of the album version for Burst Apart-reminiscent vocal theatrics. Despite these disappointments, it was a treat to hear the Hospice deep-cut “Shiva,” which was brought to life in a dream-like waltz. The band wrapped their set up shortly afterwards, and returned for a two-song encore set that closed with the Burst Apart closer “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” a fear-of-death anthem that topped my Favorite Songs of 2011 list. With its doo-wop chord progression and gospel-influenced harmonies, it was a fitting closer for a rather heavenly night.
The Antlers Setlist - 9/23/12
- 1. “Drift Dive”
- 2. “Rolled Together”
- 3. “No Widows”
- 4. “Endless Ladder”
- 5. “Kettering”
- 6. “Sylvia”
- 7. “Shiva”
- 8. “Crest”
- 9. “Hounds”
- 10. “Zelda” (Encore)
- 11. “Putting The Dog To Sleep” (Encore)