Antony & the Johnsons overcome the hype
Paradise, Boston, Sept. 29, 2005
By Jeffrey B. Remz
BOSTON - There's been a good amount of hype about Antony & the Johnsons in recent months.
The New York-based band perhaps most importantly just won the Mercury Prize in Great Britain for Album of the Year for "I Am a Bird Now," besting the likes of Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party and others, an award giving to cutting edge acts. (Antony was born in England, making him eligible)
And the interest in the quintet was large enough to draw a sell-out crowd which witnessed that Anthony is a vocally quirky, yet affable performer.
Antony Hegarty recalls Bryan Ferry an awful lot both on disc and live, though Ferry has a far better voice. Anthony actually is a bit thin in the vocals department, but he creates moods and feeling with his singing, often veering either into soulful, chanteuse territory.
Musically, he is adept on piano, which meshes well with his songs.
Antony also is helped admirably by a fine backing band consisting of Julia Kent on cello, Maxim Moston on violin, Rob Moose on acoustic guitar (he also helped on vocals) and Jeff Langston on electric bass. They add a lot of flavor and emotion to the songs.
Antony deserves much credit for never rushing the songs and often presenting them with spare instrumentation, but enough to set a mood.
He also is not so serious that he can't poke fun at both himself and the audience. When a fan shouted "I Love you Anthony," he quickly said, "Thank you Marjorie. That's my friend. She's so supportive." He could have left it at that probably oft-used remark, but he then started singing an impromptu song about Marjorie.
When all is said and done, Antony is more of a male chanteuse stylistically than anything else. A turn at songs by Leonard Cohen ("The Guests") and Nico ("Afraid") underscored that.
There's a hip quality to him perhaps because of his appearance of longish hair and black clothes since one has to seriously question whether his music has that great an appeal to the 20-something crowd in attendance.
No doubt his gender bending style and references to wanting to be a girl (he sang "For Today I am a Boy" with lyrics "One day I'll grow up and be a beautiful woman, but for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.") add to the mystery and attention he has received.
And like any good modern day musician, Antony probably milks that a bit, though not overly so.
Ultimately, the hype will wear off, and then Antony & The Johnsons will have to rely more on the music. And that well could suit Antony just fine.