Last Night: The Antlers, Phantogram at Detroit Bar

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Spencer Kornhaber / OC Weekly
The Antlers' Peter Silberman, fittingly blurry.
The Hype: The trembling noise and the trembling vocals on last year's Hospice earned the Antlers major buzz as mortality-and-morality-obsessed decedents of, say, Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And Hospice is a good album; I probably listened to it more than anything else in 2009. Phantogram, too, has been building a following over the past year, opening for acts like Minus the Bear and finding themselves signed to Barsuk.

The Show: Hospice reportedly was created after a full year of Peter Silberman cloistered in his apartment, hunched over laptops and guitars, tinkering endlessly. And that's part of the album's appeal. It's carefully sculpted, as enveloping as the womb, generous with ambient passages of washed-out guitar sounds and snatches of nursery-rhyme melodies. 

And so brought on tour and into the light--even the dim lights of Detroit--something's going to be lost, right? Right. It was jarring and a little disheartening at first to hear a three-piece rock band with somewhat muddy sound tackle the deeply felt, endearingly strange-sounding Hospice. The ambient bits were marred with rattle from the stage. Chroruses that are supposed to soar--like on "Silvia"--instead got the slow treatment and ended up thudding.

At first, too, Silberman seemed scared to be up there, or at least scared to be singing what he was singing (or maybe it's just his face that makes him look deer-in-the-headlights; seriously, Google the guy!). And you can understand why: Hospice is heavy stuff, centered on the idea of cancer as a metaphor for emotional abuse. Yeesh. 

But as the show went on, Silberman, the band and the crowd all seemed to loosen up. The trio took the intro of "Thirteen" and stretched it into a psych-rock jam session, with Silberman raising his axe before delivering each slo-mo blast of feedback over the drummer's almost-jazzy fills. It got loud, and that was good. Ditto for the delicate "Shiva." Hospice's climax, "Wake," proved as cathartic as you could have wanted, with the band hitting noisy and quiet and noisy again for the final, defiant refrain. By the time they came out for an encore, the kinks were gone. Silberman turned the XX's "VCR" into a fuzzy, escalating soul ballad, and "Epilogue" capped the night with another lovely ear-blasting.

Earlier, upstate New York duo Phantogram pulled more than their weight on the bill. With just a guy on guitar and a girl on keyboards and vocals, I expected something sleepy. Instead, they opened with prerecorded, chopped-up soul samples and a dancey drum-machine beat, with a strobe light making the guitarist's thrashing appear epic and the singer providing pretty, dark accompaniment. Single "Mouthful of Diamonds" got the crowd moving, not that they needed much encouragement anyways. It's a cool sound, if not all that far removed from the mid-'90s, trip-hop pop of, say, the Sneaker Pimps (not a dig! Well, okay, a little bit of a dig). There were technical problems--the singer's mic peaked again and again, shocking the ears unpleasantly--but forty minutes after taking the stage, the audience still wanted more. Guitarist Josh Carter seemed touched. They couldn't do an encore--they were the opener--but he said they'd be back in Southern California on tour with the XX soon enough.

The crowd: Seemed like a mix of Hospice-loving die hards (me, sensitive guys in beards), Hospice-liking girls looking to hear "Bear," and a couple super-psyched Phantogram fans. 

Overheard:  A gaggle of drunk girls worked their way up to stage for the Antler's encore and demanded the band acknowledge that it was their friend's birthday. Keyboardist Darby Cicci obliged. "Happy birthday Michelle," he said dryly. "This is a birthday song for you. It's called 'Epilogue.' It's about getting old and..." Silberman cut in: "That's enough talking."


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