The Antlers, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

You might not expect it, but The Antlers can really bring the thunder live.  The band may be famous for its delicately gorgeous ballads, but they certainly know how to build to a climax and drop the hammer, and it makes for an excellent show.  I was excited to see the band headline the Crystal Ballroom last night, since I was finally getting to see them play a full set–previously, I had only seen them play a quick SXSW showcase event and half of a shortened set at MusicFestNW, and each time they had left me wanting more.  It turns out that even ninety-plus minutes is not enough either.

Up close and personal with The Antlers

Up close and personal with The Antlers

The crowd was disappointingly sparse, though those who did show up were often enthusiastic in their response.  Previously the band had played the Doug Fir, and the jump up to the cavernous Crystal Ballroom may have been a bit overzealous; if they booked the show at the Wonder Ballroom, it would have been much closer to a sellout.  The good news is that the acoustics and sound system of the Crystal, which often frustrate and stymie even the most experienced acts, proved to be a good fit for the band’s haunting chords and gorgeous melodies.  Occasionally Peter’s guitar would find itself buried in the mix or a trumpet would pop a bit too much, but these were very minor concerns.

The band overall played brilliantly, with Darby and Tim mesmerizing the crowd with their ability to simultaneously play keys and horn parts, and Michael Lerner serving up some bombast with his work behind the kit.  The drums are often overshadowed on the album by the other instrumental parts, but they help the songs take on a whole new dimension live, giving real weight to the low end and providing unexpected rhythmic kicks–for example, in their stunning performance of “I Don’t Want Love” from their previous album Burst Apart, Lerner would add an extra beat on the kick drum leading into the chorus that helped drive the anticipation for its big release, and helped create some great tension by utilizing a snare pattern that danced around the expected beat with the final chorus.  Peter also showed signs that he is an underrated guitarist with some sneaky displays of his chops, ranging from a couple of excellent and tasteful guitar solos to a one-handed pull-off chord technique that helped spark even more intensity from their performance of “Putting the Dog to Sleep”.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The band took an intriguing approach to their setlist, primarily running through their latest album Familiars front-to-back, with older songs filtered in on occasion.  There were murmurs in the crowd for older material, namely from their classic album Hospice, but they still showed their appreciation for the newer material.  As the night went on, the band gradually loosened up in their interactions with the crowd, including a memorable exchange where Peter acknowledged the “holiday” and pulled an April Fool’s Day prank by signalling that they were about to play a new song, before quickly correcting the record.  What made this simple joke even better was Darby’s confession soon after that he had panicked a bit, wondering what it could possibly be that they were playing since they had not written any new material yet, as well as Peter’s suggestion that the audience come up with better stories of the “prank” the band had pulled.

Though The Antlers never played “Two” or “Bear” as some members of the crowd requested, the show did feature intense performances of “Kettering” and the heart-wrenching “Epilogue”, and the arrangements of the newer songs also infused them with an extra vitality.  Perhaps word of mouth will lead to a better turnout the next time the band plays Portland.

I didn’t get a chance to see the first band, but the second openers Shaprece was pleasantly delightful.  She had a wonderful voice, and the use of a cello helped add an extra dimension to the glitch-pop R&B that other artists like fka Twigs are popularizing.

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