Antony And The Johnsons
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- Antony And The Johnsons »
Antony shuffles out onto the stage, head down, face obscured by his long hair. He's wringing his hands (nervous, self-conscious) and tugging at the lacy cuffs of his white shirt, which has been altered and customised with little rips and holes on the sleeves. He takes little steps towards the piano, with his feet pointed slightly inward. He seems uncomfortable in his body, or with his physicality as a whole - inside, Antony clearly (and publicly) feels profoundly different.
I initially had doubts about Antony & The Johnsons' I Am a Bird Now - I listened through the album, and enjoyed it, but I found it hard work. I had problems with the emotionally charged vibrato of his voice - I found myself thinking of warbling pop divas like Mariah and Aguilera and their affectedly histrionic vocal grandstanding, and I wondered if this was perhaps a case of style over content. Only one or two of the songs really leapt out at me - something just wasn't clicking into place. But live, watching Antony perform, watching him wriggle on his stool and lean into the mic, his eyes closed and shoulders swaying, that angelic voice, dipping and soaring and carefully pronouncing every word, the intensity of feeling that he throws behind every note makes much more sense.
There's a visceral honesty to his performance, revealed in those mannerisms and movements, and in the committed delivery of his voice. A desperation to communicate his interior world that somehow completely avoids any mawkishness or sentimentality. The strings never feel over-dramatic when they arrive, and without percussion to keep rhythm the band expertly stay together, ebbing and flowing flawlessly with the piano and Antony's vocal. Covers of Nico's 'Afraid', Leonard Cohen's 'The Guests' and (as the encore) The Velvet Underground's 'Candy Says' receive sudden and deafening applause, and 'Hope There's Someone' sounds even more like a classic in the making played live. I realise my earlier doubts were based only on superficial similarities to other singers, and Antony is giving us much, much more. Singing for him seems like a transformative act; wrapped up in his music, Antony's heavy feet leave the ground as his voice rises, and so do ours, and for a while we are all birds too.
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