Caught Live: The Antlers + Theme Park @ KOKO, London
There has always been a sense of fragility attached to The Antlers, as if at any moment the band's material (and perhaps even the band members themselves) might fragment and shatter into a million pieces that would soon fade into the air. On a cool November night at KOKO recently, however, nothing fragmented or shattered; nobody was threatened with collapse. Instead the sold-out venue played host to a musical display of the most emotive and poignant sort.
As rising Londoners Theme Park were busy tearing through their buoyant, sun-drenched opening set – the band's brazen pop sensibilities lying somewhere between Paul Simon and the Sesame Street theme – it occurred to your correspondent that this could only have happened in a post-Burst Apart indie landscape. Had such an unasahamedly upbeat outfit been chosen to support The Antlers on their tour in support of breakout long-player Hospice a couple of years ago, they would at best have appeared somewhat ill-matched and at worst died on their chirpy arses in the face of such solemnity and suffering. Tonight, though, by the time their slot was up the precocious quartet had even the most stubborn crowd members bobbing their heads, the most jaded tapping their boatshoe-clad feet. Keep an eye and an ear out for catchy new single 'Milk' when it arrives next month via boutique imprint Luv Luv Luv.
Following a slightly drawn-out interval, the headliners eventually took the stage. The perma-glum Brooklyn trio proceeded to work their way through a well-judged set drawn in equal measure from the aforementioned Hospice and Burst Apart LPs that neatly sidestepped the prospect of an hour and a half steeped wholly in melancholy; at the same time, Peter Silberman and co. managed to avoid sacrificing the powerfully emotive likes of 'Kettering', 'Sylvia' and 'Corsicana' in favour of a good ol' (mid-tempo) dance - although this particular fan of the last record was left a little peeved by the glaring absence of 'Two'.
There had been a constant worry, when listening to the two albums in tandem at home, that the loud, heart-poundingly emotive and barely-controlled noise of Hospice would not stand comfortably side-by-side with the cleaner and more neatly-arranged songs that characterise its follow-up. What a relief, then, that such worries proved entirely unfounded, with new numbers like 'No Widows' slotting in quite neatly alongside more seasoned cuts like eerie Hospice standout 'Atrophy'; the band may now have several different facets to their overall sound, but they clearly excel at bleeding disparate elements into each other, be it over a thin layer of synth, guitar noise or carefully-manipulated distortion.
The band's journey from deeply intimate, guarded and private beginnings as a solo recording project for Silberman to their current, decidedly more expansive incarnation has brought them widespread recognition on both sides of The Atlantic, a trend that looks set to continue as Burst Apart draws more and more fans to their flame. There's always the danger of such a sharp rise in profile inevitably leading to bands of this ilk losing something of themselves as label expectations and industry machinations take their toll. Tonight, however, the New Yorkers appear perfectly in control of their own fate.
Finishing with 'Epilogue' immediately pulled things back to the almost suffocating intimacy of Hospice. It was an aptly powerful way of bringing the night to a close, and as the sound slowly swelled and receded before finally bursting forth (or apart, even), The Antlers proved themselves a band eminently capable of bringing the inside – that which was once very private – out into the open, fully-formed, to consume the hearts of an expectant fanbase.
An early date for your shiny new 2012 diary: The Antlers are set to return to the capital to play O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on April 26 next. They also have a new EP, entitled (together) and made up of remixes, B-sides and outtakes, out this very week. Theme Park, meanwhile, have three London shows – as well as that previously mentioned single release – coming up in early December, the first of which will be an appearance as part of the 'Kitsuné Christmas Club Night' at XOYO this coming Saturday (December 3). Further details can be found here.