The Antlers with Yellow Ostrich
Riot Room, Kansas City
Wednesday, July 2
One should probably not anticipate that a band that came on to the scene with an album titled Hospice
would be a flying ball of fun (they weren't), but that doesn't mean that there weren't some surprises from the Antlers' show last night at the Riot Room. The unexpected, healthy amount of instrumental improvisation - it was almost jazz-like - particularly from the group's two horn players, was interesting and thoughtful, and it truly set the indie band apart from its contemporaries. Last night's show was a lovely, fairly serious outing from a group with a passionate local fan base.
New York natives Yellow Ostrich opened the evening with a little bit of lighter fare. The music blends guitars with electronic and live beats, courtesy of drummer Michael Tapper, who plays on a mixed kit, consisting of electronic drum pads and bass and snare drums. The effect is an unexpected one; it felt like the band had a handful of percussionists rather than just one. Lead singer Alex Schaaf escalated the mood beautifully during the band's performance of "Ghost," a highlight of the band's brief set.
Despite the odd - but much appreciated - cool weather outdoors, the Riot Room steamed up to mid-summer temperatures as the steadily-growing audience packed the Riot Room's stage area tightly while the Antlers quietly set up its equipment. The set began without a lot of fanfare, but the band roused the crowd immediately with the big horns of "Palace," the first single off of the Antlers' 2014 release, Familiars
Though the band has released two albums after Hospice
, each with somewhat less serious and sad subject matter, there's no mistaking the band for a party act; lead vocalist Peter Silberman is a serious performer, and beyond a sincere "thank you so much for coming," later in the set, there was no banter from the stage, not even a smile. This be a sober and weighty band.
None of that is to say that the audience wasn't enjoying it enough for themselves and for the band - this act has an audience in KC that was very familiar with each of the band's four releases, and delighted in the off-script trumpet and synth meanderings, arranged (or at least overseen) largely by multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci. The trumpet improvisation, along with the often arrhythmic drumming of Michael Lerner, made the Antlers' sounds more haunting - and largely unparalleled among the band's peers.
The Antlers' music is subtle, but it's deceptively complicated once you can see everything that is actually happening onstage. On "Sylvia," for example, perhaps the best-known track from Hospice
, Silberman floated his vocals from barely there whispers to full-throated falsetto, and as the song faded out, Lerner on drums and Cicci on trumpet and synth played with the tempo as the song faded out, bringing in scratchy, barely-there white noise behind the horns to complement the light notes coming out of Silberman's guitar. Each song the band played had a similarly-thoughtful depth to it that was far more revealing live than just on listening to the albums.
A quick note about Silberman's voice - it's quite impressive, and it had never occurred to me prior to this show how much it resembles the late Jeff Buckley's. The two singers both display an expansive range, and have a strength in the warbly, high falsetto that most men don't attempt, let alone achieve.
Highlights of the set included a beautiful version of "Kettering," and the rousing closing songs, which displayed the most energy from the band of the entire evening. The Antlers proved while, not being a band for the happiest of occasions, to be a deeply interesting and talented act worth keeping tabs on.
Don't Want Love