The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the few prestige venues of Los Angeles that I really like. The Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theater bring with them an air of importance, but it's only downtown's Walt Disney that also allows for a pleasant viewing experience. It's small, so even though you're paying top dollar you're bound to get a good view, and most importantly, it's designed with acoustics in mind.
Last week they created an event they called "Brooklyn Festival" - 5 nights of notable Brooklyn acts, showcasing the creative and cultural burst that area has produced in the last decade. In place of Coachella's overload in the desert, I put my money into two of their nights: Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly & Bryce Dressner and Friday night's double header of The Antlers & Chairlift.
They don't seem like two bands that would take advantage of the venue's acoustic reputation. Last time I was here was back when the hall was brand new, and it hosted Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Bright Eyes. The crispness of their slow, somber folk songs rang and hung in the air, and it seemed like the hall was a perfect fit for that genre of music. But people seem to have a tendency to play towards the hall's strengths, so the setlist for the night, whether intentional or not, was full of their most ambient, ethereal and atmospheric works.
I can't say much about Chairlift. I arrived only to see their last two songs because when they say it starts at 8, they mean it starts at 8, not "doors open at 8" or "the room gets dark at 8" or "we start playing oldies over the PA at 8." From what I could tell, there was a focus on their more atmospheric and less high sugar pop numbers. When I had seen them at FYF last year, it was all energetic dance numbers, with Caroline Polachek stepping away from the keys to bust some moves. The venue lends itself towards performances to watch, not parties to engage in, and they did just fine adapting.
The Antlers did even better. Somewhere in the middle of recording BURST APART, The Antlers evolved from being a purely lyrical band into a force in ambience and mood. After showing some chops in constructing emotive soundscapes, they took it further on UNDERSEA EP, a venture that was purely all about atmosphere. It's no surprise their setlist drew heavily from that release. It sounded amazing bouncing around the hall.
Their evolution in the instrumental game was evident in the form their body of work took live. A lot of their songs are low key, melancholy numbers that could reasonably be described as quiet. They're still like that, at first. The last third of songs, which should be a winding down, is often turned into this gargantuan, rolling mass of sound. A song like "Atrophy" that should end on wind chimes and a fading choppy guitar drone becomes a high stakes storm of guitar riffs and wild drums. At times, they sound like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and that's an amazing feat.
Peter Silberman's voice is great live, or more specifically, his falsetto is great. A lot has been said and written of Bon Iver's falsetto, but after that show, I could only think that Silberman's is way more exciting. He seemed to be in that mode for most of the night, which amplifies vulnerability and just sounds better traveling over the air. He pairs it with a hell of a wail for dramatic climaxes that Justin Vernon avoids. This is a band that has all the tools for high drama: a deft story telling hand that knows just which emotional centers to touch on, a musical knowledge to compose satisfying conclusions, and a singer who can invoke a heavenly choir or an explosive cry.