Dates: April 2, 2017
Location: House Concert, Columbus OH
That applause next door? No, it’s not the neighbors cheering you on for your latest sexual conquest… in fact, you missed out on something far more entertaining (and lasting). Your next chance at Silberman’s tour dates.
BY STEVEN ROSEN
House concerts are such a great alternative to club shows. There’s no hype or hard sell — they’re basically free of the commercialism. No security searches, no waiting for hours while management tries to sell as much booze as possible before the show begins, no noisy drunks talking through the music.
For the Columbus, Ohio, stop on Peter Silberman’s tour in support of his new solo album Impermanence, he chose a modest-size suburban house on a quiet residential street in Upper Arlington, not far from Ohio State University. The homeowner, Steven Worth, had offered his home via undertowmusic.com, a site that arranges for hosted “living room” concerts for touring musicians. Worth, a big music fan, had earlier hosted Lloyd Cole.
You knew you were at the right place for the Sunday evening concert because of a homemade yard sign — Silberman’s name was written, apparently with crayon, on white paper and surrounded by musical notes. One note dotted the “i” in his name. On the house’s front brick wall, just below the mail slot, were two more signs: one said “Wellcum evrea one,” the other “Welcome every one” with two stick-figure children and the name “Ianw” in green. This was an indication these signs were the work of Steven and Tonia Worth’s two seven-year-olds, Ian and Zoe.
The concert started at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, but by 7:30 the living-room floor was already filled with virtually all the people it could accommodate, and the chairs and sofa were taken, too. Arriving late, I was with a cluster of people standing or sitting in a passageway by the front door, near the aforementioned Ian and Zoe, both in pajamas, who were curious but also shy and didn’t stay long once music began. They went to their bedroom, but had trouble sleeping — requiring visits from their mom.
It seemed the right setting for Silberman, the singer/songwriter for Brooklyn band the Antlers, who has spoken in interviews about how this solo album has been an attempt for him to come to terms with hearing loss, both in his lyrics and the volume and texture of his music. This venue promoted reverence from his mostly young fans. To them, Silberman was a musician of honesty and sensitivity, thoughtfully trying to understand beauty in a world that can make what’s good about it as fragile as a fading sunset. I did not hear anyone talk during the show, not even a whisper, nor did anyone go to the bathroom or even cough. There were no refreshments served, either.
The area in front of the kitchen counter had been set up for musicians to sit and perform — they had microphones and small amps, so it wasn’t a purely acoustic show. But it was quiet.
Opening was the gifted guitarist Tim Mislock, who has played with the Antlers but also has been Kryzystoff in the Broadway and touring productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He explained he was debuting songs from an upcoming album, Now Is the Last Best Time, that were based on his interests in Alzheimer’s patients. Before playing one meditative, somewhat ambient instrumental composition, he explained he would be thinking about the book Losing My Mind, Thomas DeBaggio’s account of his struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. “Feel free to think about whatever you want to think about,” he said. “If you want to close your eyes and take a nap, feel free.”
DeBaggio’s book is not a comforting story, so it struck me as extraordinary that this audience not only was willing to receive Mislock’s intentions, but to pay close attention to it.
The Antlers are a literary and artful band, but they are a band, which means Silberman’s voice is one part — granted, a very important part — of an overall sonic approach. But solo, with just his own airy, deliberative guitar work and Mislock’s very sympathetic support, you can really appreciate what a fine vocalist and songwriter he is. His voice has a kind of natural echo, a sweet shakiness and swooping high purity, reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. The searching quality of his spare, terse, poetic lyrics — he wants to transcend pain — recall David Sylvian’s Dead Bees on a Cake or Donovan’s Sutras.
He opened with Impermanence’s first song, the desirous “Karuna,” and followed with “Gone Beyond.” The latter’s opening lyrics, “I’m listening for you, Silence/But God, there’s so much noise/And now I fear I found you, you’re partially destroyed,” seem such a direct reference to his hearing problems that you instinctively shudder at his loss, but you also so admire his need as an artist to address this that you like him all the more. “Gone Beyond” is also a showcase for his voice’s ethereal, hymn-like high register.
When he sang so longingly about “no violence today” on “Ahimsa,” you could tell the plea was both personal in nature — related to his own difficulties — and political, meant for all of us.
Silberman also did such reflective Antlers’ songs as “Bear,” “Parade” and “Corsicana,” making all aware that he is building an estimable body of work.
The songs from Impermanence tend to flirt with floating off into the mystic, and Silberman was aware that their ephemeral quality, especially at the end of a weekend, could cause some tiredness among the attendees. “If you’ve just got to take a nap, don’t fight it,” he said.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Worth, standing near me, said, “That’s not working for a certain seven-year-old. She’s having a tough time back there,” referring to the children’s bedroom.
You’re not going to get that kind of audience/artist rapport anywhere else but a house concert. And maybe, too, you need an artist as gifted as Silberman to bring out such intimate openness.