Updated: Mar 1
If you have lived in Columbus for the last decade, you likely know someone who witnessed the meteoric rise of 21 Pilots. Their performances at graduation parties, battle of the bands, and in the tiny bars that made up the Columbus club scene at the time have become legendary to those you were lucky enough to witness the band cut its teeth. Long before they were selling out gigantic arenas, they were playing in someone’s backyard. Most of us had the opportunity to be at one of those shows and actually interact with these local celebrities before they became world-renowned. However, for some reason or another, we didn’t get there.
Luckily, life is full of opportunities, and the music industry is more cyclical than even history. This September will be the 10th anniversary of 21 Pilots’ first hit single. If you aren’t paying close attention to your local music scene, the shadow of celebrity may eclipse your vision of another rising star. In Indianapolis, a city very similar to our own and just 175 miles west of us, a similar situation is unfolding with a band called Antlerhead. Of course, some variables might be different. Still, this band is unique enough to make a lasting impression yet has the range to appeal to people from a variety of different backgrounds and musical interests.
To be perfectly honest, Saturday’s show at the Summit Music Hall was evidence of how spoiled we are in Columbus. Four bands took the stage, and all of them had something special that goes beyond talent, grit, or determination that could send any of them sailing into stardom. However, Antlerhead has a certain je ne sais quoi that was simultaneously unsettling and intoxicating. It is something that is primal yet well-polished. Beautiful pictures are painted poetically with words that describe the absolute ugliest of emotions in an almost psychedelic fever dream of genre-blending proportions. At very different points throughout their set, my husband, my college roommate, and I compared them to numerous bands: Coheed and Cambria, Phoenix, Passion Pit, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Silversun Pickups, Rage Against the Machine, Cursive, 311 and, of course, forementioned 21 Pilots.
But what sets Antlerhead apart is their meticulous level of production that goes into each song but not just in the studio. Whether it’s a fading tintinnabulation of bells in an outro, the dramatic backbeat of a separate tom drum during a breakdown, or an agonizing would-be Wilhelm scream, these elaborate elements are subtly interwoven throughout Antlerhead’s live show by a member of the band. This agonizing attention to detail cannot go unnoticed. All too often, these minor details are dropped as bands try to streamline their live show. However, Antlerhead recognizes that the exploration of such complex emotions should be nuanced and layered to accurately depict the depths of enmeshment.
This fidelity to production made Antlerhead’s set even more enthralling and elevated their performance to another level. A key highlight of their set was their cover of Brain Stew by Green Day. Now I love a good cover song because they provide the audience with a point of reference. Antlerhead’s used their artistic talents and effects to illustrate the frustration of backsliding into mental illness despite your best efforts. By giving the audience a sample of their style in a more familiar context, the band only strengthened our connection to the emotions they are trying to elicit using their astonishing arsenal of artistic effects within their originals.
Despite being the second band in the lineup, it honestly felt like the band was outgrowing the venue in real-time during their set because of the production value they put into their music. And that quality extends to all aspects of their brand, including merch. This Saturday is the first time I have ever bought two shirts from a single band at a show. But how could I help myself, the designs were beautifully hand-printed by the bassist, and the fabric is breathable, soft, and frame the figure perfectly. This D.I.Y. mentality and sheer creativity are why Antlerhead should be a band you are watching because their commitment to artistic excellence will only grow with their fanbase.
I look forward to seeing how their stage show evolves, and I would love to see them perform in a more unique venue like Mahall’s or Beachland Ballroom, where the atmosphere can reflect and amplify this band’s eclectic musical style.