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From the moment The Antlers opened with the chiming keys of Palace it was obvious that this was going to be a deeply arresting experience. The band have refined their atmospheric sound over the years, peppering it with nuance and detail. The horns in Palace draw us in to the intricacy as they swirl amongst the crashing drums.
The first three songs follow latest LP Familiars‘ track list. Antlers’ records are always a sonic journey, and it’s nice to be able to hear part of that journey live. Hotel was the most captivating of the three, purely through the sheer power of frontman Peter Silberman’s voice which rose above the instrumentation.
From there we’re transported to their 2009’s breakthrough record Hospice, their most intimate effort. Silberman’s voice begins, aided by the slight tapping of keys. It’s haunting, not a gut punch, but once again it commands absolute silence. It was the only option the crowd had. At times the show was so bare that any slight whisper could be heard.
It was easy at times to slip into a trance as the band delivered up swaying melodies one after another, with No Widows washing over and the six minute long Director conjuring a dreamlike stupor. While the quieter moments were arresting, the band was fully aware that at times they needed to pull the crowd out of their lull. The thumping drums and twinkling guitars of I Don’t Want Love did exactly that, and its familiar melody felt like one of the more heroic moments of the night.
Dressed in black and remaining largely still for majority of the set, The Antlers are a no frills band. Their appearance may be blank, but they are puppet masters, manipulating reactions from their audience. Putting The Dog To Sleep hits the accents with such gusto that it feels as if they’re controlling your every pulse.
When placed nose-to-nose with a listener, a band can crumble under scrutiny. Atmospheric, transportive music can tend to be a little self-indulgent. The Antlers are not that. The rawness of closer Epilogue was proof enough, Silberman’s tortured vocal pulling hearts into throats accompanied by a gentle guitar strum.
It’s pretty hard to keep a room full of drinking people quiet on a Friday night, but The Antlers did it easily, reducing the Oxford Art Factory to at most a quiet hush. Peter Silberman and co’s records may be characterised by their startling, understated emotion, but it’s humbling to witness its live translation, a bunch of strangers sharing a moment together in silence.