The Antlers, Little Scream at Metro, Chicago 6/11/11

When I saw this show announcement, which was a couple weeks before Burst Apart came out, I was insanely excited. I came a bit late to the Antlers game, their 2009 record Hospice didn’t make it onto my iPod until well into 2010. It’s an amazing record, everyone should own it. Burst Apart is more of the same awesomeness. The name under The Antlers, Little Scream, I had not heard of. The Golden Record, Little Scream’s debut, had just been released, so I checked it out.

I’m glad I did, too, because it’s a pretty great first record. I think we all put a bit too much emphasis on debuts, but sometimes it’s  a great indicator of things to come. Laurel Sprengelmeyer was able to recruit help from members of bands like Arcade Fire, The National, and Stars for songs, so you know she’s doing something right. I’m not even sure she needed all that help. The record is full of rich, enchanting vocals and engaging instrumentation. In particular, I enjoy the song “Guyegaros.” It strikes me as a mix of Exile In Guyville-Liz Phair and Bat For Lashes. It’s a bit different from the rest of the record, but I dig it.

Now that everyone is caught up on how I feel about Little Scream, let’s get to the show.

Over the past month or so I’ve taken a real shine to Metro. I’ve seen bands with great success like The Airborne Toxic Event, as well as local heroes Joe Pug and Chaperone grace the stage. It’s still not my favorite venue in Chicago, but since we bought a decent camera, it has dawned on me that few concert halls in the city have lighting as good as this (Lincoln Hall, but that’s about it). So being able to see one of my favorite bands, as well as new artist Little Scream, is a real treat even if the show doesn’t live up to my high standards.

And for the first half of the show, it didn’t even live up to the standards I have for a circus. It was a complete fiasco on one side of the stage, and a powerhouse performance on the other. Unfortunately the bad outweighed the good by a couple of tons.

The vocals were down so low that I couldn’t hear a word Laurel was singing, and when she was talking to the audience, no one could hear, so they talked amongst themselves. We were then treated to a ten minute guitar tuning session, which led to a story of some sort about how she was very sad because somebody…something. I don’t know. I couldn’t hear her.

On the other side of the stage the guitarist and drummer were working their asses off in an attempt to save the show. They performed admirably, but nothing could stop this train from derailing. The guitarist was really impressive. His hands are so giant his guitar looked like a toothpick. He’d storm all over the stage, banging on his axe like a madman.

I have no idea what the setlist was, because I couldn’t hear, but I know they played most of the songs off her record. As the show came to a close, the guitarist and drummer left the stage  leaving Laurel with an audience that had already tuned out. She started playing a song that I couldn’t hear, and the audience was much louder than anything coming from the stage. Halfway through she stopped playing. She said something like, “I’ll just play the last bit and then you can go on doing whatever.” The song ended, the crowd applauded politely and then, I think, she left the stage by saying “Fuck you Chicago. Thanks.” (though, honestly I couldn’t hear her, so it may have been “Duck food Chicago”)

It was rude of the crowd to behave that way, and the people up toward the front where I was weren’t making much noise, it was all people toward the back of the crowd. Still, after the forty minutes that preceded the disruption, I can’t say I blame them.

The Antlers took to the stage about thirty minutes after the trainwreck was over, so I had a little time to forget about it and focus on my imagined perfect setlist for the next set. I was WAY off, but the set that they played was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only was the mix of old and new songs absolutely on point, but they pulled every song off remarkably well.

If you’ve spent any time listening to The Antlers, you know how much is going on in the background of every song. There’s such a rich atmosphere that I almost hesitated to see them because I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I mean, 45 years ago The Beatles had to stop touring because the music they were making couldn’t be reproduced live. Fortunately for us, The Antlers are a band of the moment, and technology has come a long way.

I heard every song I wanted to hear, and was glad to recognize that some of my favorites are very popular amongst the crowd. The song “Bear,” especially, was one I thought might get skipped. The song is just depressing as all hell, but it’s written and performed so well that it always puts a smile on my face. There’s something to be said for the fans of the Antlers when we can all belt out a line like “We’ll make only quick decisions and you’ll keep me in the waiting room. And all the while I’ll know we’re fucked and not getting unfucked soon.” That moment took me back to the night Gabe and I went to see The Mountain Goats at The Vic, and the crowd shouted out the lyrics to “No Children” that go:

And I’d hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You’d stay the hell out of my way
I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

Times like that are what make live music so thrilling. The Antlers music is so deeply personal and honest that it touches you whether you want to let it in or not. Every person in the audience at Metro was feeling the cathartic power of Pete Silberman’s words. He seems to hold an amazing silent power on stage. Like a great general leading his men into battle, Silberman is running full-speed from beginning to end, ensuring that all targets are destroyed.

The thing that surprised me most about the show was how much energy the band gave off. When I listen to the records, I certainly hear a lot going on, but I assume it’s created mainly with guys sitting around with varying distortion devices and computers. On stage, away from those crutches, I found it incredible how similar they were able to make the songs sound. Damn near perfect on each one. And Pete’s voice. I don’t even know what to say about it. How he performs night after night I’ll never know. He’s a dynamo with supreme talent.

The main part of the show ended with my favorite song off Burst Apart-maybe my favorite song of 2011, so far-“Putting The Dog To Sleep.” I’ve written about it before, so I won’t say too much here. It’s just, if I were in a band, and there was one song I could play to end a show with, it would be this one. If I had been The Antlers, I would have finished the song, waved good night, and hopped in the van and drove away. There’s no following it. They did come back out and play an encore, but to me it was unnecessary. I did enjoy it, though. They played another of my favorites, “Two.” They played a couple others as well, but my head was still reeling from the incredible job they did with “Dog.”

The Antlers pushed the average for the evening to a very good. It could have been great, but Little Scream came very close to ruining everything. As I noted earlier, I do think Golden Record is really good, so I’m willing to write this one off as a fluke. Pete swooped in and turned the night around for everyone, and I think everyone in attendance would agree that The Antlers live show is one of the best around.

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