Since the band had been touring their new album Burst Apart for a month, their performance was not met with the lack of enthusiasm often proffered by crowds confronted with unfamiliar material. Burst had already proven itself as a more-than-worthy follow-up album to 2009’s highly celebrated Hospice, and the rave reviews it has garnered from respected music blogs accounted for the huge turnout. Friday’s performance revealed just how far the Antlers had come from leadman Pete Silberman’s solo bedroom project, as it relied on a more interesting musical collaboration between band members than required by Hospice’s essentially concept-dependent singer-songwriter material.
Indie newcomers Little Scream warmed up the crowd, which had already reached holding capacity by the time they’d taken the stage. Lead singer Laurel Sprenglemeyer carried the set with her relentless energy and a breathy warble reminiscent of both St. Vincent and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, though the overall performance was stylistically schizophrenic. The band ricocheted between the snarling and guitar-driven to the plaintive and spare at breakneck pace, pausing only briefly for glib stage banter. Endearingly, Sprenglemeyer honored Judy Garland’s 89th birthday with a cover of "The Rainbow Connection," which incited a small-scale barroom sing-along. If the Firebird served beer in frosty mugs, all would have been held sloshing aloft.
The Antlers set the tone for a perfectly timed 90-minute set with "Parentheses," a selection emblematic of the OK Computer-era Radiohead influence pervasive in the band’s new material. It was immediately apparent that Darby Cicci, encircled by about five keyboards, would be very busy shaping the electro-tinged atmosphere integral to nearly every track on Burst Apart. Next up was a druggy and meandering reworking of "Kettering," built slow on the foundation of Silberman’s mournful, ethereal falsetto to a crashing climax courtesy of drummer Michael Lerner.
The soft, brooding "Hounds" and spacious encore-pick "Corsicana" bore the distinct post-rock influence of bands like Mogwai and Sigur Rós, but peacefully coexisted alongside more eclectic or uptempo experiments. The Freudian dream-diary jam of "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" shook the crowd from shoegazing revelry for a brief dance interlude before the band slowed “Bear” down to a tinkering lullaby. Dolorous doo-wop number “Putting The Dog To Sleep” was a fitting conclusion to the main set, and proved an unexpected personal favorite of the night.
Just as heart-rending as anything from Hospice, picks like "Rolled Together" and "No Widows" achieved an otherworldly quality, Silberman seemingly possessed by the spirit of Jeff Buckley. Perhaps more striking than the ever-present drones, loops and glitches was a newfound sultriness the band assumed when performing new material: indeed, the woeful moans coupled with Silberman’s bedroom eyes created the impression of a man intent on seducing a roomful of people. If the raucous applause that followed the conclusion of the encore was any indication, he had succeeded.