“Incredible,” I woke up to find my friend had texted me. The message had come through immediately following the Antlers show the night before, in Columbus, OH, where they’d just finished the first show on their tour. “Show of shows!”
Just in case I wasn’t excited enough already, that text message certainly sealed the deal.
The day before, I’d spoken on the phone with drummer and percussionist, Michael Lerner, while he was in a van somewhere on their way to Columbus. He sounded excited to be getting back on the road and ready to embark on a new tour, and I was happy to hear that it had come across in the show in Ohio. “It’s been a long winter” he confirmed. Lots of cold, snowstorms. I agreed, and thought about the last week or two of sunny days and temperature in the 70s and 80s, and how much better it had made everything seem. “Now we’re well rested, everyone’s happy, and we’re excited to be getting back out there”, he said.
In due diligence at attempting preparation for our chat, I’d searched the Internet for some reviews from past shows and was excited to read how much fans tended to say the shows, for lack of a better word, rocked. That was definitely a creative decision, Michael answered, when I asked him about adapting a generally intimate album for live audiences. And from the moment they took the stage and kicked into “Kettering,” the first non-“Prologue” track on Hospice, the freedom to explore new ideas that we’d talked about was evident. The song was recognizable and had that same gut-wrenching feel exhibited in a song and album that can pull off lyrics following the story of someone who’s lost someone close to them to cancer. But, at the same time, the show, yes, rocked. I couldn’t stand still, nor could the majority of the Canopy Club audience. Only one song in and I was already sold on my friend’s “show of shows” proclamation.
Next, the band kicked into “Sylvia,” and then “Bear,” the song through which I discovered them and that I wrote almost solely about in my preview, and from there on out, there was no turning back.
One other point I asked Michael about was the importance of narratives in the song. I’m a fiction guy, I’d said, so I’m especially a sucker for that, having discovered a new appreciation for the band when I’d spent some time looking around the band’s official site and found the lyrics presented as little stories, in prose form as opposed to the more traditional poetic/lyrical line breaks. He confirmed that it was as important an element to the songs to him as a band member as it was to me as listener, in that it adds another layer to the songs. Watching the show unfold, I kept thinking of this idea anew. As opposed to sitting at home listening to the songs on my computer, or walking around with headphones on, lyrics are one of the last things I usually think about when at a concert. What I want is something more immediate, more visceral, and my favorite aspect of the show was that the Antlers delivered on that desire. But then, in between those moments of letting myself feel swept along with the music, I stopped and listened closer, and sung along to the lyrics while letting them settle inside of me instead of just repeating by memory. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve it,” Peter sang, on repeat, during “Wake,” the last song before the short 2-song encore, and it reminded me why I’d been raving about Hospice to everyone I knew—The Antlers have that ability, with every moment in every song, to both make me smile and break my heart a little.
Show of shows, indeed.