Live Last Night: Antony and the Johnsons

The essential tension in the music of Antony and the Johnsons is between the precise chamber-rock arrangements and Antony Hegarty's precarious falsetto. When the septet performed Tuesday night at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue, there was another notable contrast: between Antony's cryptic, evocative lyrics and his rambling, garrulous remarks.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Antony didn't speak until he had performed almost a third of his set. But after the transgender singer-pianist finished "For Today I Am a Boy,'' he expanded on its theme by suggesting that all world leaders should be required to switch genders for a time. In a sense, Antony did that himself, singing of his desire to be "a powerful girl,'' and appropriating girl-power star Beyonce's "Crazy in Love,'' which the Johnsons stripped of its go-go beat.

That excision wasn't surprising, since the group isn't much on thumping grooves. "Kiss My Name'' briefly erupted, and the latter part of "Shake That Devil'' was very nearly rock-and-roll, but most of the set was closer to French chanson or Brecht-Weill cabaret. Antony warbled against and around his own piano, occasional guitar or saxophone, symphonic percussion outbursts and droning strings that recalled the Velvet Underground (as well as such modern composers as Crumb and Penderecki).

Although the group's new "The Crying Light'' addresses ecological fears, Anthony is no Al Gore. Temporarily forsaking falsetto to discuss the Pope, Hiroshima and "masculine archetypes,'' the singer was free-associative and utterly personal. Such earthly songs as "Another World'' were potent not because of their universality, but because of Anthony's singular sensibility.

-- Mark Jenkins

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 4, 2009; 8:38 AM ET Live Last Night
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Wonderful show. His rambling remarks were a mix of funny and casual and silly. It was nice he was unguarded and could share some thoughts that are not quite worked out yet! But when he sang - he took us back to the sublime, and the highest beauties that humans are capable of.

Posted by: ClarkKent1 | February 4, 2009 1:37 PM

I thought this show was stunning. I'm definitely an Antony fan, but it was even more than what I expected. Amazing music in a fantastic setting...believe me, we music fans in Baltimore are jealous of the 6th & I Street Synagogue venue.

I have to disagree with some of the characterizations of the Antony's vocals...he doesn't do much actual falsetto, and I certainly don't think he warbles. He has an incredibly strong voice and range, with little need to go falsetto...he's actually hitting those high notes. He also has incredible technique and control; I think the writer is mistaking a soulful vibrato for warbling.

I also thought the Johnsons had a lot of swing to them...there not about "thumping grooves"...there's a lot more going on than that.

Posted by: DeltaDave3551 | February 4, 2009 11:24 PM

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