“Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone.” Unquestionably, not the words you would expect blaring over Memorial Glade to close out a day dedicated to prospective students, but the Antlers still managed to close out their show successfully with “Putting the Dog to Sleep.” There has been a strong indie-rock presence in the past with Cal Day performances by Cold War Kids in 2010, the Dodos in 2011 and Dr. Dog in 2012, and the Antlers were chosen to carry on the tradition in 2013.
Nevertheless, it remained a puzzling selection compared to past acts — unlike their predecessors, the Antlers are known more for their mellow sound and somber narrative rather than high-energy riffs. They are critically revered, particularly for their 2009 album Hospice, but have gradually shifted from a folky sound to one that is more influenced by the post-rock and electronic music in Burst Apart and Undersea. With these factors in place, it remained to be seen to what kind of a performance Berkeley would be treated to.
The band was originally a solo project of frontman Peter Silberman, whom The Daily Californian recently interviewed. Originally unaware of the particulars of Cal Day, he responded with a long, hearty laugh to the answer we gave. “Oh shit,” Silberman joked upon hearing that Cal Day is a day when prospective students would be visiting. “Cool, I’ll make sure to compliment everything I see on campus — especially when parents are walking by.”
This is the kind of warm-hearted personality that reverberated from Silberman between songs. Watching the Antlers alternate between their heart-wrenching lyrics and awkwardly delivered quips (on topics such as fraternity row and sunscreen), it was a strange but endearing experience.
“We try and take the mood of our surroundings into account when we’re working on a setlist, but I don’t really know what the vibe’s gonna be like, but I’d imagine that people are all just lying on the grass listening to music on a sunny afternoon,” Silberman supposed. “It depends how we’re doing that day. We don’t have a standard set list — we come up with it on the fly.” Aside from a momentarily cloudy sky at 4:20 p.m., it was pretty much what he predicted. Long time fans, on the other hand, were given an unforeseen performance from the band, given its reputation for soul-crushing lyrics.
Particularly worth noting is that the Antlers sound completely different live than in the studio versions of their songs. While their songs are normally associated with vulnerability, the use of effect pedals — a welcome surprise — added uncharacteristic power to their sound. Silberman certainly does not discount the fact that he is singing about a dreary past to a massive crowd.
“It’s sometimes an uncomfortable place to be in, an uncomfortable place to put yourself in,” he explained. “It’s like an oversharing mentality — like if you’re ever talking to a friend you don’t know very well ,and you suddenly kind of give too much of yourself away all at once, and you’re like, ‘Now there’s nothing left. Now there’s nothing left. (This person knows) everything about me and I don’t even know this person very well.’”
However, these insecurities were imperceptible during Cal Day. The likes of “Zelda” and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” seemed like entirely appropriate songs to end the show with, despite their lyrics of losing love and the fear of never finding it. Unlike the studio versions, they seemed to take on more of a post-rock direction — Silberman’s voice sometimes became a lyricless instrument and was completely omitted at times as the band played reverberating instrumentals, reminiscent of “Kettering” from Hospice. Though melancholy is perpetually associated with the Antlers’ music, cynicism never is. The band’s music provides a kind of cathartic uplift. It was a haunting performance that left us speculating about what’s next for the Antlers.
Of course, we couldn’t leave it to speculation. “Yeah, we’ve been working on something for a few months, pretty much every day, and we’re going to be working on it much longer,” Silberman said. “Probably for the rest of the year. I hesitate to call it an album. I try not to think of it as an album but as a period of time that you’re creating something, and whatever it ends up being, it ends up being.”
“A lot of it has been about mining pain and hurt in order to kind of find connection,” Silberman imparted when asked about his older lyrics. At the time of Hospice’s release, he was 23 years old. Nowadays, his approach to song-writing has changed. “The idea is, you’re going to have a kid,” he explained, “Do you want to raise a bitter, angry person and bring that into the world,m or do you want to try to create goodness and, wherever you can find it, encourage it?”
In the end, the uncertainties about having the Antlers perform on Cal Day were completely invalidated. Perhaps prospective students (as well as the rest of us) needed to hear lyrics such as “It’s just not important / The small things we suffer / They’re infinitesimal / We swim in an ocean / It swims between us” from “Zelda.” On a day that’s essentially dedicated to courting potential students with blind optimism, the Antlers were a welcome dose of reality for a bunch of deer in the headlights.
Contact Ephriam Lee at [email protected].