Divine but not Devout

Concert Review
The Antlers
Metro Chicago
Saturday, June 11, 2011, 9 PM

My musical tastes run to the tactile. I like sticky sounds, drunken rhythms, sliding meter, cardiac percussion. I rarely know lyrics, but I can breathe and coo and cry and belt in unison with every record I own. I always come in on time, and usually in tune, but maybe with the wrong consonant.

The Antlers have the remarkable ability to smolder and entice despite a near-constant 48 bpm-ish pulse. They are that type of band whose albums present relatively straightforward meter in such a clean manner that this sharp backdrop, accompanied by diverse instrumentation and respectful use of rests, creates works worth your intimacy.

Tonight, The Antlers built upon their relatively understated source tracks with intensity, purity, drive, and ambition, transcending said steady dynamics and pace. Despite their songs’ generally straight meter, The Antlers seem to be even more rhythm-focused than most bands: not only the bassist, but also the singer/guitarist, and even the keyboardist, constantly circle back to their drummer — not just during clichéd riffs, bridges, and anthems, but continually checking in. I find this even more remarkable because, frankly, the drums are not the instrument setting up anything particularly tricky or flashy.

The Antlers’s live act throws some references into sharp relief. Any listener cannot help but hear Arcade Fire’s classic Funeral opener, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” in the sustained, arpeggiated transition chord into “Kettering.” Similarly, to a person of a certain age and class (me), the militant snare of “Parentheses” and “Sylvia” evokes Arcade Fire EP’s “No Cars Go.” Interestingly (to me), most of the first third of the band’s set seemed quite 1960s John Cage-influenced in its pseudo-chaotic, thumb-biting riff-play. Or, perhaps, some late Pink Floyd.

Although I found The Antlers interesting intellectually because their drum-centricity surprised me, let’s be frank: who gives a shit about that? Although I was already a fan and ready to get blown, two of my companions had never listened to the band before and still were thrilled.

This band blew the fucking roof off the place with songs you don’t anticipate having the potential to express such coital expanse. The Antlers might be smart, but they make you fucking howl, and feel and dance and smile, and if that’s not a great fucking show, I don’t know what is.

P.S. The bassist came out to the hallway to say hi to everybody as we left! That doesn’t hurt, either.

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