Not that we have anything against raging metalheads, but it hits a soft spot to see a rock musician in touch with his feminine side, capable of writing a ballad with the gusto of a heart-torn teenager at the same time being able to sing distant octaves that only Axl Rose or Prince might dare to hit. Mind you, The Antlers’ frontman Pete Silberman is no wimpy kid — the twenty-something Brooklynite can throw quite the punch with his epic ballads that hit right in the pit of the stomach, delivering each evolving emotion with no apologies.
At the Metro in The Antlers’ first return to Chicago since releasing May’s stellar Burst Apart (Frenchkiss Records), few things had changed in the band’s winsome performance. There was one lineup edit with the addition of touring bassist and subtle backup vocalist Timothy Mislock to round out the trio of Silberman, drummer Michael Lerner and keyboardist Darby Cicci, but most of the thirteen song performance was much of what devoted swarms of fans who had sold out the band’s 2009 hit Hospice had come to expect: absent of smoke and special effects and bursting with rich, hi-def sound and a charismatic singer who lead the pack through a one-hour living soundtrack.
Cinematic is the best way to describe the voluminous, head-in-the-clouds reaction to songs like opener “Parentheses”, a spacey noir track that seemed infinite as it effortlessly bled into the second number, “Kettering”, from The Antlers’ prior hit-maker Hospice. At this point of convergence between the two albums, discerning listeners could sense the change of scene, departing from the more experimental new album and moving to the existential forlorn of the band’s earlier material—but to ask anyone which was better would be utter blasphemy. Hospice and Burst Apart both become such a necessary entity of the band’s lifeline, one the heart and the other the lungs that keep the band alive and developing as more and more cling to their unique musical personality.
As Silberman moved into “I Don’t Want Love”, the early hit off Burst Apart, hearty cheers erupted before the song could even be established while fan favorite “Bear” became a form of interpretive poetry as many in the audience simply closed their eyes and sang along with Silberman’s bereft dialogue about a dying loved one.
When it comes to performing, The Antlers are no deer in headlights, keeping a professional’s poker face even in the midst of so many unknowing variables. Halfway through this set, the band jokingly played off a rare false start of the Freudian “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out.” … “For a second there, I thought we might be impressing you,” toyed Silberman. “But we’re just us, nobody’s perfect.”
Yet all that The Antlers did this night at the Metro was impress everyone, the beguiling jeans and t-shirts quartet masking a more formal operatic union who told their story through song and beats adding dramatic effect as the thundering booms of the drumkit perfectly timed with the lightning crashes of filtered lights. At the same time, Silberman gently caressing his microphone and flexing his Vienna choir vocal muscles, advancing on a melodic stairway to the heavens.
Walking away from the show was to carry the heavy burden of the night’s emotion on your shoulders but it was a cross worth bearing … and there was always that chance of letting out a good cry at home, Kleenex in hand and Hospice on in the background.