OK, September has gone, summer has gone. Live on 35mm enters its third year and Brooklyn, again, offers me the occasion to talk about another emerging great band.
A strange night this one at the Lexington. The Antlers close a mini London tour of four gigs in three days opening a friday night with an early show.
I read wonders about Hospice, The Antlers debut album, for months. I must say, the first time I came across them was much before Pitchfork and the rest of the indie-how-cool-I-am bunch that followed. It was reading a friend review on the Italian indie-rock.it webzine.
It may sound surprising to you, but yes there are some residual signs of free expression in Italy.
Peter Silberman had started writing the album during two years he lived secluded in a New York city flat. He was there to mourn the loss of a loving one for cancer. I have definitely a personal sympathy with the author of the album which obviously contributes to get me quickly into the mood, but if you are strong enough to face sad stories, keep reading these lines and immerse into the depth of the lyrics.
Hospice is another concept album gravitating about a loss. It adds to Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago and the recent Noah and the Whale‘s The First Days of Spring.
Despite a parallel that brought the music press to write a lot of comparisons to Bon Iver I am here to stress the differences more than the analogies.
Not only the situation is not comparable, whoever Bon Iver has lost, Emma, his band or the faith in the world, his (wonderful, let’s be clear) album is not about death, not hospital death by cancer and this is not a small detail.
Musically, a key difference is the geographical position.
To conceal oneself in a cabin during three months of the Wisconsin winter is not as locking the door of a New York city apartment.
No signs of human presence permeates Bon Iver album, he put his thoughts in nine songs written on the white canvas of Wisconsin snow. Hospice breathes the sound of a city still leaving beyond the walls of Peter Silberman’s room.
Hopefully I arrive at the Lexington relatively early, no one advised me that the Antlers where opening the night. I discovered it on the stage times sheet on the door: Antlers 8:30 PM. Almost missed!!
There are two more bands following that I have never heard of. I wonder why such oddity, the venue packs up at eight it is evident everyone is here for these Brooklyn guys (and everyone knows about the early set but me).
I enter the Lexington upstair room with a beer and the boring idea to start twittering while waiting. Instead I realize the Antlers are sound checking which was a much better way to fill the time. Three young and easygoing guys crafting some of their songs in front of a guy at the soundboard, in fact more interested to eat his sandwich than play with the mixer buttons, nevermind.
It was nice to see the smiling folks, drama is a matter of the past, the atmosphere is happy and dedicated.
Half an hour later the concert starts.
Peter Silberman stands on the left, a bit on the back, behind his guitar. His body language reveals some shyness.
Michael Lerner sits behind a drum kit borrowed from 12 Dirty Bullets one of the bands that will follow.
Darby Cicci on the right, shoeless. His keyboards are pushed to the white tape signalling the end of the stage. Half a inch more and they would collapse over the audience.
Live the concert doesn’t follow the album progression.
The opening is for Bear, a simple song highlighted by the melody on the keyboards, slightly helped by a delicate intervention of the drums in the chorus. Minimal.
It evolves straight into Thirteen as in the album. The keyboards become darker and the gig becomes interesting. The lyrics hide one of the dramatic cry of help, it could be sang by PJ Harvey’s falsetto.
Dig me out…
Oh, dig me out…
Couldn’t you have kept all this from happening?
[Thirteen - The Antlers]
First important point.
If Peter Silberman is the founder and the mind behind the concept, Darby Cicci tonight is a key element to create the sound that holds the entire building. Without his keyboards there would be a void.
Silberman as a counterpart has a brilliant voice which doesn’t come out so intense from the record. The way he interprets the songs has the credibility of the one who first lived a difficult reality and then has slowly sublimated it into beautiful songs.
Sylvia follows. It is dedicated to the subject of the album and it is my favourite track.
The guitar has its revenge, the song highlighted by another set of distraught lyrics takes advantage of some noise to describe the anxiety of the disease and the frustration of the ones who cannot do much more than seeing it spreading, powerless.
“Please, curtains in. Start us off…
You swing first. Sorry.
I don’t know what I said,
but you’re crying now again,
and that only makes it worse.
Let me do my job.
Let me do my job.
Sylvia, get your head out of the oven.
Go back to screaming and cursing,
remind me again how everyone betrayed you.
Sylvia, get your head out of the covers.
Let me take your temperature,
you can throw the thermometer right back at me,
if that’s what you want to do, okay?
Please, please calm down. Steady out, I’m terrified.
Sorry, I want us to ally, But you swing on little knives.
They’re only sharp on one side.
Let me do my job.
Let me do my job.
Sylvia, can’t you see what you are doing?
Can’t you see I’m scared to speak,
and I hate my voice ’cause it only makes you angry.
Sylvia, I only talk when you are sleeping.
That’s when I tell you everything,
And I imagine that somehow you’re going to hear me.”
[Sylvia - The Antlers]
Atrophy is a ten minutes anaesthesia where the piano adds notes around verses where the narrator’s desperation reaches the climax.
“Someone, oh anyone. Tell me how to stop this.
She’s screaming, expiring, and I’m her only witness.
I’m freezing, infected, and rigid in that room inside her.
No one’s gonna come as long as I lay still in bed beside her.”
[Atrophy - The Antlers]
Whoever experienced death, is going to be symphatetic with Shiva, the next song. I never heard a song going so straight to the point. You may not bear reading this, but if you do you can’t deny the poetics wrapped into telling a drama.
“Suddenly every machine stopped at once,
and the monitors beeped the last time.
Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds,
and all of them empty but mine.
Well, I was lying down with my feet in the air,
completely unable to move.
The bed was misshaped, and awkward and tall,
and clearly intended for you.
You checked yourself out when you put me to bed,
and tore that old band off your wrist.
But you came back to see me for a minute or less,
and left me your ring in my fist.
My hair started growing, my face became yours,
my femur was breaking in half.
The sensation was scissors and too much to scream,
so instead, I just started to laugh.”
[Shiva - The Antlers]
To close the short set, the Antlers played their most famous song, Two. The chronology of the events is inverted.
Two tells about another hard moment that you can symphatize only if you have been so unfortunate to live it. The moment when the doctor comes and tells you that there are no more chances.
That moment the entire world crumbles to your feet. That moment for the first time you understand even tears are worthless.
“In the middle of the night I was sleeping sitting up,
when a doctor came to tell me, “Enough is enough.”
He brought me out into the hall (I could have sworn it was haunted),
and told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear:
That there was nothing that I could do to save you,
the choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you.
Something in my throat made my next words shake,
and something in the wires made the lightbulbs break.
There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling,
it opened up the scars that had just finished healing.
It tore apart the canyon running down your femur,
(I thougth that it was beautiful, it made me a believer.)
And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room,
but I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew.
When I reappered and tried to give you something for the pain,
you came to hating me again and just sang your refreain:
You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare.
You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair,
then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.
They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.
Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built the gears in your head,
now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating.
“Eighty-seven pounds!” and this all bears repeating.
Tell me when you think that we became so unhappy,
wearing silver rings with nobody clapping.
When we moved here togehter we were so dissappointed,
sleeping out of tune with our dreams disjointed.
It killed me to see you getting always rejected,
but I didn’t mind the things you threw, the phones I deflected.
I didn’t mind you blaming me for your mistakes,
I just held you in the doorframe through all of the earthquakes.
But you packed up your clothes in that bag every night,
and I would try to grab your ankles (what a pitiful sight.)
But after over a year, I stopped trying to stop you from stomping out that door,
coming back like you always do. Well no one’s gonna fix it for us, no one can.
You say that, ‘No one’s gonna listen, and no one understands.’
So there’s no open doors and there’s no way to get through,
there’s no other witnesses, just us two.
There’s two people living in one small room,
from your two half-families tearing at you,
two ways to tell the story (no one worries),
two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry,
two people talking inside your brain,
two people believing that I’m the one to blame,
two different voices coming out of your mouth,
while I’m too cold to care and too sick to shout.”
[Two - The Antlers]
A packed Lexington howl for an encore that will not come. “Death is not the end” used to sing Dylan first and Nick Cave then, no it is not that, two more bands are due to play. Few stay, the venue empties.
Good news is that French Kiss signed the Antlers and is going to give Hospice a proper distribution so I will be waiting for their next tour. You should be too.
Meet the Antlers on [myspace] and listen to Hospice on if you are in one of those lucky countries who can access it.
It was refurbished recently and is quickly becoming one of the coolest London venues. In the last months I have been at The Lexington quite often. In addition to the Antlers, the photos of Arbouretum and Twilight Sad were shot there.
Sited in Islington, a short walk from Angel tube station (and a bit longer from Kings Cross) it is a gastropub with an upstair room to host concerts.
The Room is bigger than the standard pub backroom, it is the perfect size to feel cosy without feeling lonely.
About 150 people capacity, I’d say, on two areas separated by a step. Bar and some sofas are on the back. than a bigger room with the small stage. There is no pit but usually enough room to move around even when it is packed.
Photographywise apart from being difficult to move along the front in the absence of pit the main problem is the lightining. So far anytime I went it was very dark. Consider working on very high Iso and bring with you that fast prime lens.
On the nice side there hasn’t been (so far) a strict photography policy. I always shot there with an agreed photopass but there were many people from the crowd shooting freely.
There is also a nice space, with three steps on the right that allows you to shoot side of the stage at the same level of the band. Be sure to ask in advance if you are allowed to step there even if you have a press pass.
Considering their policy of hosting bands than you would expect playing in larger places, The Lexington is a perfect venue to get in touch with the difficult art of shooting live music covering someone that is bigger than your mates reharsing in the pub down the road.
If you are there only for the music, all I can tell is that I saw there three amazing shows out of three I attended.