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Concert Review: The Antlers and Phantogram Live at the Independent, San Francisco, May 1, 2010

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Phantogram's debut album Eyelid Movies is decent stab at indie electronica, and they work even better live.

You'd think the star of the show would be keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Barthel, whose wispy voice, skin-tight pants, and sensual dance moves added a healthy dose of sex appeal to the band's presentation. In fact, the real highlight of their set was their drum machine, whose pounding 808s got the jaded crowd moving. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter seemed awkward and slightly out of place, struggling to juggle singing, playing the guitar, and messing with the electronics. Dressed in an unassuming polo shirt, he came off more as an everyman compared to Barthel's gothic Louise Brooks.

Both of them busted out some overly dramatic and slightly cheesy moves, pointing to the audience and changing the lyrics to their songs to reflect the cocktail waitresses struggling through the crowd and dropping in references to San Francisco. Their set was short, concise, and sounded great. In fact, there were so many effects on their instruments and vocals that it was hard to tell if they were actually playing at times. All told, they were good live, and made an excellent case for their album.

The between-band music included Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," which seemed fitting since the Antlers ambitious music owes at least something to Floyd. I had come to the show because I've been listening to the Antlers 2009 album Hospice since its release last summer, but have never been able to fully digest it. I hoped that seeing them live would help me understand what I was missing, and give me a better context for their songs.

They managed to sell out the 500-capacity Independent, but the crowd seemed oddly unprepared for their somber, delicate, heartbreaking music. The crowd was drunk and chatty, and after the booty-shaking thump of Phantogram seemed more ready to party that listen to someone pour their heart out. Which is exactly what singer Peter Silberman did for the next hour.

The band, comprised of Peter on vocals, guitar, and keys, Michael Lerner on drums, and Darby Cicci on keyboards, managed to do an excellent job reproducing the nuances of the album live. Silberman's voice soared, reaching operatic highs as Lerner's drums crashed and Cicci's keyboards swelled. Songs like "Sylvia" and "Two" were presented with dynamism and drama, with the band sounding tight and yet still improvising.

Seeing the Antlers live confirmed what I suspected from their record: many of their songs get buried in atmospherics, and don't offer much actual song for the listener to grasp onto. There were several songs that didn't really congeal, and instead floated along in a sea of guitar effects, ominous keyboards, and falsetto vocals. I left the show after the band played "Two" but before the encore, feeling that forty-five minutes of their long instrumentals and quiet-loud dynamics were adequate for one evening. I was impressed by the Antlers as a live act, but more convinced than ever that they weren't for me. If Hospice has resonated with you, seeing the Antlers live will be a cathartic, emotional experience. As a casual listener, it wasn't enough to win me over.

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