written by Chris Payne
In just a few years, shape-shifting The Antlers have undergone more reinventions than many successful bands do in a lifespan. Hospice, their 2009 breakthrough, was a heartbreaker of a chamber pop album with an intertwined narrative about a dying cancer patient. Leading man Peter Silberman followed that up with last year’s more expansive, electronic-leaning Burst Apart, before (figuratively) heading out to sea with 2012’s Undersea EP, a lush four-song collection of hypnotic, nautical-inspired songs. They’re a rare breed of indie rock band who reinvent themselves before even the sharpest of journalists can pin point their sound. What emotions they’ll evoke in today’s set is anyone’s guess, though Silberman and company appear likely to leave their crowd mesmerized nonetheless.
With Union Square Ballroom inching towards capacity, The Antlers finally took the stage as the day’s (and week’s) final act during KEXP’s broadcast at CMJ Union in New York City during the 2012 CMJ Music Marathon, cheered on by the elbow-to-elbow collection of onlookers. Appropriately enough, the band opened with the first cut from Undersea, the dreamy, pensive “Drift Drive” and proceeded to play three-fourths of the record, save only for the eight-minute “Endless Ladder,” due to very understandable time constraints.
It took until just before The Antlers’ final song (Burst Apart‘s “Hounds”) that Silberman addressed the audience. This was highly appropriate – an Antlers set, much like one of their albums, is best taken in immersive, uninterrupted doses; the sort of experience that even a casual “Hey, we’re The Antlers” would’ve upset.
In another testament to the band’s cohesiveness, Burst Apart tracks flowed virtually seamlessly into those from Undersea, like some cross-record jigsaw puzzle. The bodies of the four musicians’ seemed to ebb an flow with the music’s depths and swells, while layers of guitar, keyboard, and vocals intertwined.
Prior to the set, heart-on-sleeve comments along the lines of “They’re one of my favorite bands” could be heard throughout the room. Although the crowd stood still in near silence through most of the performance, an almost tangible reverence could be felt. What certainly was tangible was the crowd’s size; by set’s end, onlookers wrapped completely around the stage, almost spilling into the exits.