Live from the legendary Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, critically acclaimed Brooklyn band The Antlers recently emerged from hibernation for their first show in over two years. Playing their latest studio album, Green to Gold, in its entirety followed by a second set of career spanning material, the enthralling, emotional, and dream-like performance on October 22, 2021 was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The road to get there, however, was a long time coming.
Rising to prominence in 2009 with their breakthrough masterpiece Hospice, a semi-autobiographical concept album that tells the story of a hospice worker falling in love with a terminal cancer patient, The Antlers had not released any new music since 2014’s Familiars. It was later revealed in 2017 that primary songwriter and bandleader Peter Silberman had quietly stepped away from the band after being diagnosed with permanent, career threatening tinnitus and vocal lesions. The Antlers would remain silent until October 2020 when seemingly out of the blue, they released a single for “Wheels Roll Home” and officially announced their first album in seven years, Green to Gold would be released in March of 2021 via Anti Records/Transgressive.
While no touring plans were made in support of the album, the band confirmed a special one-time only performance of Green to Gold would soon take place at the most storied barn in the Catskill Mountains. For diehard fans, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect setting than Levon Helm Studios.
For those who didn’t already know, some free advice: arriving late to a show at Levon’s is like being late to church on communion Sunday; there’s simply no way to enter without being disruptive. The ‘last minute Larry’s’ on this particular night found that out the hard way when classically trained jazz minimalist David Moore of Bing & Ruth kicked off the evening with a beautifully subdued piano recital. The acoustics in the room so clear, every footstep and whisper of the late arrivals was heard. Unphased by any of it, Moore’s focused, cinematic set was but a precursor to the splendor yet to come.
After a brief intermission, it was finally time for a performance that was years in the making: The return of The Antlers. A must-see bucket list band for some, one person I spoke with at set break confessed they traveled all the way from Minnesota to Woodstock for this one-time-only, once in a lifetime show. Spoiler: the band did not disappoint.
Bathed in lavender light and taking the stage to a chorus of cheers and smiling faces, the mood gradually turned dead serious as a chorus of cicadas and crickets soon engulfed the room. Just like on the studio album, The Antlers opened with the first track off Green to Gold, a dreamy, ethereal, post-rock styled instrumental called “Strawflower.” Each of the four members adding a new layer of sound and texture while joining in one by one, it wasn’t until “Wheels Roll Home” that we would hear the instrument most vital to The Antlers signature sound, Peter Silberman’s remarkable voice.
Showcasing his impressive vocal range through half-sung/half-whispered melodies that often guide the listener to an astonishing falsetto peak, when you hear Silberman sing in person, you know you are witnessing a special talent. A vulnerable, rare kind of performer who can effortlessly send shivers up your spine or tears down your face on any given song; an artist willing risk it all for the sake of his craft, defying doctors’ orders after being told he may never perform again. Sounding magnificent on this cool autumn night at the barn, hearing Silberman pour his heart out to a live audience felt like nothing short of a blessing.
Describing “Wheels Roll Home” as “a simple song about the hopeful promise of reunion after a long time gone, the experience of waiting out tumultuous times and longing for stability,” Silberman touches on a theme most can relate to, particularly in the wake of the global pandemic. Never a band to shy away from difficult, dark and emotional subject matter, their bread and butter since the beginning, just two songs into the set and you could feel a sense of renewed optimism from The Antlers, something rarely heard on their previous albums.
Up next came a beautiful song called “Solstice”, co-written with long time Antlers drummer Michael Lerner (who opted to play on Levon’s vintage red kit instead of his own), the band describes the tune as a “flashback to the infinite days of peak childhood summer, innocent barefoot hikes, staying outside all afternoon and late into the evening, well past it being too dark to see. But it’s remembered from the vantage of a present day that feels unbearably long rather than joyously endless. It’s an invocation of those simpler times, an attempt to conjure the lightness of youth, before life got so damn complicated.”
Building on the soul-searching mood, the introspective journey continued with “Stubborn Man” before fading out into a sea of ethereal ambience that left the mesmerized crowd in stunned silence. As the emotional weight and integrity of the band’s performance grew with each successive song, up next came one of the biggest standouts of the evening “Just One Sec,” a song that noticeably left several people in tears.
“I’ll free you from the person I was sure I knew“Just One Sec”
I’ll free you from a reputation you outgrew
I’ll free you from behavior I’d expect to see
And my interpretation of history
‘Cause I boxed you in unconsciously
And I saw you and I thought you ought to be
But by loving you imperfectly
For just one sec, I’ll free you from me”
Segueing perfectly into another song about hindsight came “It Is What It Is.” Also written by Silberman and Lerner, the richly textured song tackles the topic of learning from your mistakes, asking the listener to ponder “what might have changed had you handled things differently back then, and the reluctant acceptance that it’s too late for all that now.” The Antlers then seamlessly worked their way into “Volunteer” before transitioning to the hypnotic title track of their latest album, “Green to Gold,” a song that contemplates the inevitability of life and it’s ever-changing seasons. The gentle soul-searching sway of “Porchlight” lead us to the album closer, bookending the set with another languid, post-rock influenced instrumental called “Equinox.” The relaxing, layered groove would simply dither out and conclude the Green to Gold portion of the show the same way it began, in chorus of crickets and cicadas.
After a short brake, the emotionally elated audience welcomed The Antlers back for round two. There was no mystery during the opening set, but now it was anyone’s guess. Opting to go with the opening track from 2014’s Familiars was the beautifully brilliant song “Palace.” From there we were treated to back-to-back songs from the bands critically acclaimed album Hospice, first was “Atrophy,” then perhaps the most well-known song of the evening, just down the road from Bearville, came “Bear.”
“We’ll play charades up in the Chelsea“Bear”
Drink champagne although you shouldn’t be
We’ll be blind and dumb until we fall asleep
None of our friends will come
They dodge our calls
And they have for quite a while now
It’s not a shock
You don’t seem to mind and I just can’t see how”
After the stellar rendition of “Bear” was the bittersweet anthem “Parade.” Taking a moment between songs to clear his throat with a large drink of water, you just knew whatever was next, Silberman was going to give it everything he had left. As the richly textured, dream-like melody of “Corsicana” began, a tangible “hairs-on-the-back of your neck, get your cell phone out and record this” feeling swept over the audience. The only song to be played from 2011’s Burst Apart, it was then that Silberman uncorked one of the most unbelievable, heartfelt falsetto croons these ears have ever heard; one that still gives me shivers just thinking about it. Following an extended well-deserved applause, we were treated to one final thought-provoking number, a little-known song written by Silberman, but never released by The Antlers called “Ahimsa.”
“Time is all we have, I hope I have enough
Enough to show you love before my time is up
Before you wake the dead, take a pause
Instead of deafening nonsense, share silence
No violence today
No violence, no violence, no violence today”“Ahimsa”
With an extraordinary end to an extraordinary evening, the band members then took center stage and hugged it out with each other first before bowing to the standing ovation. Not just a special night for fans who thought they’d never live to see an Antlers performance, but a special night for the band themselves. Coming full circle and finding perspective by letting nature run its course, time has been good to The Antlers. From writing somber songs in a Brooklyn bedroom, to playing Green to Gold in a legendary barn surrounded by friends, family, and some of their biggest fans, those who were lucky enough to be at Levon Helm Studios on this night will never forget it.
As the season for “best of the year” lists rapidly approaches, be skeptical of any that does not include The Antlers and 2021’s Green to Gold. Seven years in the making, this is an album that will stand the test of time.
The Antlers – Levon Helm Studios – Woodstock, NY – 10/22/2021
Set 1: Strawflower, Wheels Roll Home, Solstice, Stubborn Man, Just One Sec, It Is What It Is, Volunteer, Green to Gold, Porchlight, Equinox
Set 2: Palace, Atrophy, Bear, Parade, Corsicana, Ahimsa