In a nightmare I am falling from the ceiling into bed beside you….

March 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm (Uncategorized)

One of the problems with creating an album as dense, ethereal and sonically ambitious as The Antler’s ‘Hospice’, is that at some point, if enough people get to hear it in the first place, 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 ever 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.

This predicament leads the band to Brighton’s Hanbury Ballroom and a crowd that is a pretty equal mix of hipsters intrigued by the hype, slavishly loyal acolytes ‘Shhhh’-ing in annoyance at those talking at the bar, and the friends/partners they have dragged along with promises of greatness. The band take to the stage 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. Wisely sticking to working their way through ‘Hospice’ pretty much from start to finish, the band sound unhurried, almost methodical in their approach, giving every song time and space to unfold and breath 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 really 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 form 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 a 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. After a while however, this extraction begins to feel a little like pulling teeth. The band’s determination to make every song into an overwrought, barrage of noise blankets the delicacy and innovation of the musical arrangements that made ‘Hospice’ so enthralling in the first place.

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 this is 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.

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