There’s a line in “Corsicana,” the emotional heart of the Antlers‘ most recent album, Burst Apart, that finds Peter Silberman singing, “We should hold our breaths with mouths together now.” It’s a poignant image, a love among a burning home (metaphorical or not). It also applies to the band’s show at Webster Hall on Saturday. The crowd was urged to fight through the palpable pain that the group’s songs elicit and be one with the four guys on stage, singing heartbreak and despair.
Silberman and co. had very little stage banter, preferring to fill the space between songs with extended jams and renditions of those very same songs. Most in the crowd were just vibing (as they are wont to do at indie shows), but some were rocking out and singing along to every word, a lost headbanger among a sea of introspecting souls. The music, however, did warrant it at times. If there’s one thing that Burst Apart doesn’t show on record, it’s the Antlers’ ability to get loud. Live, however, is a different story: Set opener “Parentheses” beat along with an even harsher drumbeat than the studio version, and “French Exit” shone as an early highlight via its already strong groove being taken to 11. Even the solemn “No Widows” picked up some extra steam when performed, with the vocalization by Silberman being sped up to sound even more urgent. Speaking of his vocalizations, it seems that the singer has found a comfortable spot, for he was nailing every high note and seemed about to burst a vocal chord throughout.
Also working well as a live song, although for very different reasons, was the first single from Burst Apart, “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.” On record, the song is a bit of an outlier, both musically and lyrically, but live it fit right in, courtesy of some slowed-down instrumentation. The album-title-name-dropping “Rolled Together” held a nice visual treat, as the stage lighting went dark with only a greenish-yellow light (the same exact color as the album cover) shining the way, a reminder of the album that got the band into Webster Hall in the first place. Burst Apart has been a hit both with critics and fans, yet it’s not until hearing it live that one can appreciate just how strong of an album it is.
The secret that became obvious during the set, however, was that the Antlers’ strongest album when performed live is Hospice, not Burst Apart. The songs from the former are heartbreaking in both scope and narrative, tugging at your emotional core while also bludgeoning you with some of the loudest moments in the band’s catalog. Early on, the quiet “Kettering” laid the groundwork for what was the strongest song in the set, the eight-minute (more when it was performed, of course) “Atrophy.” In front of a slideshow that resembled nerve endings, Silberman and his band laid bare a story of broken bones and broken aspirations, the singer’s voice shivering as it told of the terminal patient waiting for the release of death. It’s morbid and devastatingly beautiful.
After a brief (almost required at this point) break, the band was out for an encore set, featuring some of the Antlers’ best songs. Song of the year contender “I Don’t Want Love” led the way, somehow being even more affecting than when it’s placed at the front of Burst Apart. Silberman hit the song’s remarkable high note with ease, perhaps even dragging it out longer live. Then came the one-two Hospice punch of “Sylvia” and “Epilogue.” The former’s quiet verses were beefed up live, and Silberman impressed with his passionate yelp of “Sylvia! Get your head out of the oven!” It was frankly stunning to go from that to the quiet, eerie lament that is “Epilogue.”