Antony & The Johnsons with The Deaths (Sunday, February 20th,
2005, Fine Line Music Café)
By Kristen Hasler
“If there’s one band I you need to check out, it’s Antony and The Johnsons. His duet with Boy George might just make you cry,” a friend told me a week before Antony and the Johnsons rolled into the Twin Cities for an appearance at the Fine Line Music Café. The next day, another friend sent me a similar recommendation. These two friends being my most trusted music references, I could not miss Sunday’s show.
Much of the press dedicated to the band revolves around Antony, a performance artist who began recording several years ago. He draws frequent references to Nina Simone and is currently working with Lou Reed (a big fan). He continues his performance work, most recently and notably with a performance for the Whitney Biennial in New York.
Openers The Deaths toned it down (per the request of Antony) but still delivered a great set. There’s a blinding dearth of bad indie bands floating about, so when one stands out for me, I’m grateful. The Deaths’ occasional doo-wop meanderings, perfectly-blending vocals, liberal use of keyboards and tight compositions propel them beyond indie darling into a solid stratosphere alongside those who rise above the flotsam.
When Antony and his guitar/cello duo came onstage, the crowd quieted like I have never experienced at the Fine Line. My interest was piqued, even having heard nothing of Antony nor his music until Sunday night. He sat at the piano, wearing a silken black wig and a thin smattering of a knit sweater. Launching into “My Lady Story”, the Simone comparisons came through with echoes of Jimmy Sommerville and a vibrato mildly akin to Aaron Neville. He has a voice like I have never heard: wavering, floating over octaves and landing directly on your heart.
Antony’s songs are aptly described as “torch songs”. He is quoted as saying that when he first moved to NYC, he had images of Isabella Rosellini from “Blue Velvet” lodged in his head. He openly plays with notions of gender and his voice is an immaculate reflection of this: when you hear him sing, if you close your eyes you will hear both the feminine and the masculine woven into his wide-ranging octaves.
The crowd remained quietly rapt throughout, as he ran through material from the group’s latest release “I Am A Bird Now.” Accompanied by guitar, cello and violin, the short set of intense songs left one feeling tweaked as if by an emotional movie scene---perhaps Isabella without the burden of Dennis Hopper’s insanity, but with an aviary androgyny filled with soaring beauty.
Kristen Hasler is Kristen.email@example.com
Postscript: This review is dedicated to the late Hunter S. Thompson. Gonzo shall live on, good Doctor.