By the end of what the Great American Music Hall called “An Evening With The Antlers,” San Francisco was drenched by rainfall. The damp dreariness of the night was fitting, considering the hard-hitting themes the Antlers grappled with throughout the course of the sold-out concert.
It has been four years since The Antlers have gotten together to play a live show. In commemoration of their critically acclaimed album Hospice turning 10 years old, the formerly three-piece, now two-piece outfit reunited to play the album in its entirety. It was a performance put on entirely for the fans, and judging from the enthusiasm and utter captivation of nearly everyone who was present, this was a well thought-out decision. There may have been attendees unfamiliar with The Antlers, but it was the clearly loyal fans that stood out the most.
As a concept album, Hospice is superb, a heart-wrenching magnum opus. In 10 songs, The Antlers tell the story of an emotionally abusive relationship between a hospice worker and a terminally ill cancer patient. Every second of the album is a punch in the gut that makes you want to profusely thank The Antlers for simultaneously saving and ruining your life.
The band elected to retell this fragile story by stripping down the songs to versions accompanied by only two guitars and a single drum. Frontman and lyricist Peter Silberman, along with other original member and drummer Michael Lerner, were joined by Tim Mislock, who also opened for the headlining act.
It was an intimate setting for an equally intimate performance. Most of the audience was seated, as the venue doubles as a restaurant and bar. Cluttered around the seated concertgoers, the standing room space was entirely taken up. As the band walked on stage and began preparing its instruments, it was greeted by fierce applause, cheers and whistles.
The Antlers, it appears, had been dearly missed by its fans.
The three men were all seated on stools, forming a half-circle in the middle of the stage. No time was wasted on initial pleasantries and audience engagement. The band immediately jumped into the instrumental “Prologue” — the first track off Hospice — before moving into “Kettering,” where Silberman was finally able to show off the falsetto that adorns so many of The Antlers’ songs.
It wasn’t until the Hospice set was nearly over that the band finally paused for a moment to share a few words with the crowd. Silberman noted that they had been to the Great American Music Hall before, and that being back after so much time was “surreal.” After thanking everyone for showing up to support the band despite their prolonged hiatus, The Antlers delved right back into the last few songs from the album, ending with the suitably named “Epilogue.”
But “Epilogue” didn’t mark the end of the night. After a brief break and a sip of tea on Silberman’s part, the band regrouped to play seven more “golden oldies” from the band’s other albums. Judging from the reverent reactions as each song began, the selections were chosen to please the crowd.
And please the crowd they did.
There was nothing new about what the Antlers showcased at the Great American Music Hall on Friday night. Of course, that’s exactly what the band was going for. It wasn’t an evening meant to boast new projects — it was an evening dedicated exclusively to the fans that have stuck by the Antlers for well over a decade. Seeing Hospice played live was nothing short of a treat. It was a gift from the Antlers, a “thank you” whispered between the lines of each song played. The band has been silent for a few years, yet its fans are anything but.
Toward the end of the set, a concertgoer emphatically proclaimed, “Go Antlers!” I have to say I wholeheartedly agree.