June 3, 2010, Boston, MA –
Boston’s House of Blues was visited by Brooklyn-based indie darlings Antlers and The National, who delivered their wares to a capacity crowd. The Boston HOB location, hunched in the shadow of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster”, is essentially a standing-only venue, with a main floor and two wraparound tiers above. There is a small section of seats in the uppermost tier against the rear wall.
Antlers, fronted by Peter Silberman on guitar and vox, along Darby Cicci on keyboards (as well as a host of effects) and Michael Lerner on drums, mainly featured songs from their latest release, Hospice. As might be guessed from the album title, the songs are moody, droning musings on the end of life. Very often, they start with gentle rhythms played by Lerner on the cymbals, and build into massive ambient swirls underpinned by Cicci’s steady left hand on Fender rhodes. Silberman’s counter-tenor vocals are startling, at first — he has a higher reach than many female vocalists. He often utilized this keening register of his voice at songs’ climaxes.
As noted previously, Hospice does not deal with a cheery subject, and the songs are dirgy, heavy numbers. The crowd’s reception of Antlers reflected the songs’ gravitas — there was eager applause in between, but little activity during them. It’s hard to see the basis for Pitchfork’s ebullient assessment of their work. Antlers’ emotionally charged approached seemed a touch affected, or forced. “These are serious songs about death, and you must cry,” seems to be the sub-rosa text. Yes, music can, and should, portray serious and even overwhelming emotion. Antlers’ depiction, however, seemed to lack authenticity.
The atmosphere lifted considerably as soon as The National took the stage. A horn section is always a good sign, as is the band’s reading list, that includes Dostoevsky novels “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Idiot” ( http://news.qthemusic.com/2010/05/the_nationals_library_-_a_read.html ). In spite of — or perhaps because of and abetted by? — that point of reference, The National blazed their way through an hour-and-a-half set of snappy rock compositions, deftly played by the band and energetically delivered by singer Matt Berninger. Again, the study in contrasts (that is, with Antlers) could be summed up in the persons of the two frontmen. Berninger, who must be about six-foot-three, is all throaty reserve and Ian Curtis under-the-breath dynamics, looking like a gentleman farmer in his boots and vest. Antlers’ Silberman, by comparison, is the picture of elfin boyishness with his striped sweater and delicate guitar plucking. The crowd responded dramatically to Berninger’s and his band’s performance. Throughout, the floor was a turbulent sea of jerking arms and bobbing heads. Near the end of the set Berninger jumped into the crowd to run around, while a roadie tailed the microphone cord behind him like a fisherman trying to land a Dorado.
One more note about The National’s sound. The band is an octet, with doubled guitars, keyboards, violin, rhythm section, and two horns (trombone and trumpet). At no time, however, did that sound seem sludgy, or uncontrolled. Perhaps this has to do with the tidy, clockwork drumming and bassing of brothers Bryan and Scott Devendorf. In the space of a single song, a sound texture like that of chamber music (violin and piano, with a hint of a guitar tremolo) might gradually open up into a big orchestral landscape, with threatening bass in the trombone, topped off by shrieking guitars.
Despite an almost complete unfamiliarity with their catalogue, The National won this reviewer over with the energy and precision of their delivery. Their message to the crowd seemed to be, “We are here to entertain.” They accomplished that end.