If I had ever gotten around to making a list of my favorite albums of 2009, The Antlers’ Hospice would have been on it. The concept album is a breathtaking story of a troubled relationship between a man who is a hospice worker and a woman with bone cancer, with swelling imagery of hospitals, love, and death. It’s the most heartbreaking and compelling story told through an album since I heard The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers’ The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia back in 2005. I read that Antlers lead singer Peter Silberman wrote the album while isolated in an apartment in New York, cut off from his friends and family. I didn’t understand until I moved here how lonely such a crowded city can be, especially when you have moved away from everything and everyone that defined your existence, and Hospice embodies that more than any other New York music I’ve heard.
Yesterday, The Antlers headlined a free concert on Pier 54 on the Hudson River, on a stage surrounded on three sides with water, with the crowd facing the New Jersey shoreline and the band looking back at the Manhattan skyline. The opener was Dinosaur Feathers, who actually sound exactly like their name: light indie backed with cretaceous-like drums. Listen to “History Lessons” in this completely ridiculous music video to get an idea of their sound. Unfortunately, the generator blew about halfway through their third song, cutting off the sound and lights. This forced the whole concert to come to a stop for about half an hour. Finally, they got a bit of sound, if not the drums and amps, to work again. Dinosaur Feathers valiantly played a few semi-acoustic songs and then a loud cheer was let out from the crowd as a generator surrounded by flashing lights was driven down the pier to the stage.
The Antlers finally took the stage with white flowers decorating their instruments, appropriate for their haunting set. The three-piece band was accompanied by a horn section for many of the songs, which helped layer the air with the music. After seeing Antlers on the huge pier, I definitely want to see them in a more intimate venue sometime. The set was hypnotic, including many songs from Hospice, as well as older material and a couple of new songs, one of which was performed live for the first time. When they performed “Two,” I got goosebumps despite the warm air:
The darkness on the river after sunset combined the blue lighting on the stage made performances of songs like “Bear,” “Wake,” and “Epilogue” unearthly. Almost like we were all going to drift off from the pier down the Hudson. Is this getting overly poetic? Well, it was just a really good concert and I’m sure I could create some really elaborate metaphors to describe it, but I’ll end with this video of one of their new songs. Even if I sometimes feel a deep isolation when I look out at the Manhattan skyline from my roof or crowd myself in with strangers in the darkness of the subway tunnels, I still love that New York can offer me experiences like this. And that this loneliness can create such beautiful music.