The Antlers With Thus Owls Trees, Dallas Saturday, July 19, 2014
I was more than a little shocked when I walked in to Trees on Saturday night. Call me stupid, but my expectation was a respectable and respectful turnout for the Antlers. After all, this is a band whose main currency is lyrical explorations of mortality, wrapped in atmospheric (read "mournful") music, often delivered in a delicate falsetto. Wonderful music for a late night with the stereo, but not exactly Deep Ellum date-night fare.
To the contrary, the venue was packed early with a diverse, raucous crowd that crammed the floor and was three-deep-plus in the balcony areas. When Peter Silberman and his colleagues took the stage, the applause left no doubt that these were more than casual fans. It was clear many in the audience had a deep familiarity with the band's catalog, as throughout the nearly 90 minute set the first notes of most songs generated appreciative applause.
The Antlers are touring on the heels of the last month's release of Familiars, the band's third full-length album. To call the album's pace "unhurried" is more than fair, and the set began with Familiars' first three songs in sequence. As opener "Palace" slowly unfurled, a lonesome trumpet and keyboards set a recurrent musical theme for the evening. The stage was lit with chandelier-like fixtures fitted with a single Edison bulb, which set an appropriately intimate mood.
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Silberman's delicate vocals, more dosed with reverb here than on record, were in fine form. This is a man clearly in love with his voice and he didn't pass any opportunity to run it to upper registers like a castrato. What was more surprising was his turn on guitar, breaking out a number of solos that, while still a bit lost in the mix, were scorching nonetheless. "Sylvia," one of only three song's played from the band's most popular release, their debut record Hospice, was an epic display, even though like most moments when he was not singing, Silberman kept his back to the audience while playing. There was no abundance of charm or charisma on the stage.
As would be expected, much of the set was pulled from Familiars. In fact, only one song from the album was omitted. Interestingly, each song appeared in the set as in the album's sequence. And as with the set's opening, the last three songs were the last three of Familiars. The three songs from Hospice also appeared in the album's order. More so than most records, the Antler's albums present the arc of a story, so it makes perfect sense for this to be the case.
Before the Antler's set began, I recorded a prediction that the crowd would thin out by a third before the set ended. It was a testimony to the audience's connection to the band's music that the prediction proved vastly wrong.
Opening for the band was Thus Owls, Montreal-based but led by Swedish singer Ericka Angell and her Canadian husband and guitarist, Simon Angell. With a voice and range reminiscent of Kate Bush, Angell was stunning. Despite this being their first U.S. tour, there was no lack of either confidence or capability in the band's extremely strong set. The audience responded accordingly, with huge applause and a line 10-deep at the merch table afterward. Maybe the best performance by an opener I've seen in years.