I'm not even sure it's worth writing about the Antony and the Johnsons show we saw tonight. Not because it wasn't good, but because my abilities are inadequate. They played a concert here in Portland backed by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, and it was one of the most serenely beautiful experiences of my life. If I could convey to you in words the purity and the beauty we witnessed in that room, I would be a writer of much greater renown, believe me. Listening to Antony Hegarty sing, I was immediately humbled. Few people can move an audience the way he moved the concert hall tonight.
The show began in total darkness. Antony walked on from stage right, stepping in front of the curtains without them opening. When he took the microphone at the center of the stage, we could only see his outline, but as soon as he opened his mouth, there was no mistaking who it was. "Sometimes the wind blows," he sang, the opening lines of his Julee Cruise cover, "Mysteries of Love." There was the barest instrumentation backing him up, and his voice reverberated across the Schnitz like some kind of cosmic force. That's the only way I can describe it: otherworldly. A few songs in, even after we could finally see Antony, I leaned over to Joëlle and said, "I can't believe that sound is coming out of a human." From the first syllables, my eyes filled with tears. I was that moved. I lightly cried through the first five or six songs. I saw Joëlle wiping tears away, too, and even Andy admitted to crying a little.
The set hit an emotional crescendo for me during "I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy." The song as it's recorded has a long pause t the tail end of the first verse, and in this venue, Antony milked it for all it was worth. The entire orchestra held, waited for his signal, and he let it roll on, letting the anticipation build. "I fell in love with you..." The voice came back like a fist. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
The band played for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Most of the material was older--"The Rapture," "Cripple and the Starfish," "River of Sorrow"--mixed with a bunch of awesome newer numbers that make me eager to hear the next album. The only song off of I Am a Bird Now was a soaring "For Today I Am a Boy." He also did a second cover, a slowed-down, syrupy take on Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." I didn't recognized it at first, and I couldn't understand why other people in the audience were hooting and hollering about it. Then I heard the chorus, and I finally got it. After hearing that, I'd have killed for him to tackle some Christina.
For as powerful as the Antony and the Johnsons songs are on record, there is nothing to compare to seeing them in this kind of setting. The way he moved, how his gestures and his face showed the pain of every word, there was no doubting that the songs are born of a heartfelt sincerity and that they come from someplace very real. We were sitting in the tenth row, just left of center, so we could see everything. According to their website, this show is only being performed in four other cities: Milan; Zaragoza, Spain; Los Angeles; New York; and London. The guy sitting behind me had flown here from L.A. to see it, which had to be well worth it. He is going to see them at the Disney Hall, but I doubt it is as small a venue. I'm almost tempted to fly down and see it again, too.
Afterward, we made a brief stop to see Craig Thompson and Jeremy Tinder working in the all-night Paintallica event, which is part of the same Time Based Art Festival that brought Antony to our fair city. Craig was only two hours into the twelve hour art throwdown, and he didn't look like he was going to make it! I hope he's okay.
* Note: The photo and video were not from the Portland show I saw. Just so we're clear.
Current Soundtrack: recorded versions of all the Antony & the Johnsons songs mentioned in this post
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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich