Antony and the Johnsons @ The Pabst Theater
Feb. 13, 2009
From the grand piano to the seated string trio, Antony and the Johnson's performance at the Pabst Theater Friday was formal in every respect, save for the one big exception: Antony himself. Unlike his handsome backing band, which was attired stylishly in trim suits and formal wear, Antony dressed down in casual slacks and a sweater wrap that could have come from a Lane Bryant catalogue. Even among his own band he was the outsider.
Of course, he would have stood out even without the sartorial dissent. Between his bulky, amorphous frame and dainty, ostentatious mannerisms, Antony draws attention to himself like a character from a John Waters film. That he so revels in theatricality would be off-putting if his songs weren't so grounded in cold, hard reality. Even his trilling, operatic voice takes on an air of desperation that can't be feigned, and it's that contrast that makes his music so oppressively sad. Antony uses the romantic, escapist language of the stage to sing of very real alienation and violence.
Antony's set highlighted the nuances of his arrangements-the title track from his new LP The Crying Light, for instance, ends poignantly not with a swelling crescendo but rather simple finger snaps-and freed his more muscular songs to kick harder than his mannered albums allow. The real revelation, though, was Antony's jocular side, which is all but non-existent on his records. Antony smirked his way through lighthearted anecdotes, gave some sassy job-interview advice and even made an apparent "Reno 911" reference.
There was also implied humor in a cover of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," though as with every song in his set it was sober and baleful in execution. Like The Flaming Lips' take on Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head," it stripped away all groove, leaving behind only stark, naked sentiment. "Got me hoping you'll save me right now," Antony quivered, "Got me looking so crazy in love."
All photos by CJ Foeckler