Is there any less interesting format for a record release than the infamous live album? Every band has to tread that ground eventually—be it because of contractual obligations, the waning spotlight, or a significant downtrend in cash flow, releasing a “limited edition” live record with alternate takes on classic tracks is a sure-fire way to stimulate your publisher’s pocketbooks without really having to do very much heavy lifting. It’s surprising, then, that In London comes so closely on the heels of The Antler’s fantastic 2014 release, Familiars, since it’s so apparent that Peter Silberman’s trio didn’t need the sales boost.
In London is a thoroughly for-the-fans affair, released on double-vinyl only and encompassing much of Familiars, as well as previous records Burst Apart and Hospice. Audience chatter and cheering is kept to a tasteful minimum at the beginning and end of each track, and the live mix is amazingly clean. The extended intro “Palace”, which also opens Familiars, sounds even better from within London’s Hackney Empire theatre, built in 1901 as a music hall. The hall itself lends a deep reverb to the record that matches perfectly with Silberman’s pained vocals and Darby Cicci’s fantastic work on trumpet, which soars over most of the tracks with a haunting and ethereal warble.
The album is a mostly sombre affair, as is fitting with The Antler’s particular brand of delicate indie songwriting. Performed with the same sort of patience and humility as Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, it is a remarkable sign of restraint that Silberman never really bursts from the seams the band has carefully erected. The few notable exceptions to that rule come exactly where you’d expect them to, in the pre-encore “Putting The Dog To Sleep” and its exuberant finale, and “Epilogue”’s final, hit-everything-at-once grand conclusion. As cliche as their placement is, the final fifth of In London justifies the smooth ebb and flow of its other parts with a flourish of instrumentation and a final eruption of volume.
The live album is an artistically bankrupt medium, and In London makes no effort to strive from the tried-and-true. Die-hard fans of The Antlers and their previous five records will find the alternative playings enchanting, especially if they haven’t gotten tired of listening to Familiars yet. For those that want to recreate that live-show experience in the comfort of their own living rooms, In London exists—for all other curious passers-by, there is still last year’s Familiars.