When I was small I had a teddy bear called Yogi. He didn’t look anything like his famous namesake, but I wasn’t all that creative with naming things like that. My budgie was called Budgie. Anyway, I looked after Yogi and occasionally worried about his well-being too much. Peter Silberman reminds me of my Yogi bear for several reasons. I have the same protective feeling towards him and the latest album from his band The Antlers. It’s a thing of great, fragile beauty but also immense power. I worried for those songs. Mostly I worried about the beer-flavoured crowd chatter and what a venue like The Academy might do to them. But it wasn’t the usual culprits that did the damage tonight.
When I arrived into the venue there was a surprisingly large and eager crowd up at the stage as the support act Maud In Cahoots began their set. After giving a couple of their tracks a quick listen earlier in the day, the thing that struck me most was the similarity of two of the songs to Lykke Li. I thought they might be worth a try though. Lead singer Maud is confident but despite all her efforts, lacks any genuine stage presence and though her voice is mostly fine, there are moments when she reaches too far and it starts to sound like karaoke in the local pub. The overly involved friends and family up the front are vocally supportive though. They could teach Whitney Houston a thing or two about sustaining a good high-pitched note. There is very little of interest in their set though as too many of the songs sound like bland daytime radio fodder. When Maud’s sister initiates a cover of “Purple Haze” on her cello, it takes the majority of the crowd a while to realise what they’re playing. For those that have seen or heard Vyvienne Long doing the exact same thing over the last 7 years, it was easier to recognise. Of course, Long doesn’t own the cover version, but if Maud In Cahoots brought anything extra to her version, it was merely a bit of X Factor dust.
With the cheerleaders now mostly downstairs buying Maud’s t-shirts, the main room filled up nicely for the main act with just enough breathing space around the room for people already suffering a bit from the warmth of the past few days. With the smell of sweaty, aftersun-ed Antlers fans mixing with The Academy’s customary stale beer odour, the three-piece arrive onstage. It immediately became apparent that the songs were not going to be performed as note for note recreations of the album, with the first few tracks being slowed down, minimalised slightly and relying more on a steady, thudding drum beat. Though I didn’t think this was beneficial to the songs, I was willing to let it slide. But it just got too much.
I’m not the sort of person who complains when an act chooses to modify their songs in a live setting… quite the opposite. I understand that it might be entirely necessary to maintain one’s sanity while on the road. The problem here was that, in my opinion, every modification left the song considerably worse off. What makes Hospice such an incredible record is its intimacy, its delicacy, subtlety and uniquely exhilarating moments of emotional chaos. Tonight, all those carefully considered nuggets were discarded in favour of a tried and tested blueprint for supposedly epic live shows. On the album, there are lyrical, structural and melodic themes that run throughout which tie the complicated story together. Re-imagined at this gig, the recurring themes are painfully piercing, squalling noises from Darby Cicci on keys, plodding, pedestrian and ludicrously heavy-handed drumming from Michael Lerner while Silberman’s vocals were often trite and meandering when they weren’t muffled amongst the bombastic noise. The intricacies of these beautiful songs were substituted for a template which involved tracing stretched outlines of the original songs with big black markers. Every song was restructured to accomodate the punctuation of each bar with a collective crash bang wallop and throughout, Silberman’s guitar playing was largely restricted to the same kind of windmill-style assaults on every fourth beat. The target was very clear, but it was also very obvious that here was a band that had mistaken volume for soul and sincerity. By the time Silberman spoke at any length to the crowd and introduced “Two”, I was dreading what would become of their guitar-chiming pop standout. Already, “Bear” had been pared down to a simplistic version of itself, lacking in the reckless flurry of excitement in the stumbling beat of the original.
Towards the end of the set, some tracks were candidates for redemption as both “Shiva” and “Wake” managed to work some of their haunting magic on the room. After beginning their encore with a cover of The XX’s “VCR”, the band took their cue from this more considered approach and their final song “Epilogue” began well, with Silberman given the space to expand the song just a fraction. But before we could be treated to the creatively superior ending that closes the record, they resort back to the same formula of steady, monotonous noise again. It was like watching The White Stripes cover Hospice, taking all the texture from the arrangement and beating you over the head with a rhythm that demanded attention in the most simplistic way. Their drastic overuse of cymbals and clunking noises on the keys failed to create the kind of noise epic they were aiming for and rather became a kind of misguided Mogwai.
In case it’s not painfully obvious, I was incredibly dissapointed with this gig. Admittedly, it is largely because of my un-natural love affair with the original collection of songs and the fact that I had built the gig up in my head so much beforehand, but either way, knowing how astounding these songs could and should be, I’d find it hard to see how anbody could be content with the way they were presented at this gig. Ultimately, both of the bands tonight suffered from the same thing: a tendency towards ill-judged posturing in an attempt to recreate the kind of performance they mistakenly think people want from them. The real tragedy is that one of them had wasted such phenomenal source material.