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Story and photos by Max JensenAntony Hegarty's harrowing and beautiful voice speaks of tales that only a twisted angel could have endured. His vibrato is alien at first, but his warblings lure you in - deeper than you might want to go. His weary heart speaks of the dark complexities of the human soul (albeit his soul) in a stark language filled with lyrical beauty and with childlike innocence that's jaded - but not lost. He bares witness to a fatalist acceptance of the travails that afflict the fragile human spirit. There is an underbelly of optimism even in his darkest hour. With lyrics drenched in bleak catharsis' that travel through the shadows of dark personal alleyways, Antony's world of post-cabaret is populated with a cast of gorgeously strange themes and emotions.
Calling The Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee "truly one of the best theatres in the United States," Antony and the Johnsons set the table for a scrumptious evening of mesmerizing music. Joining Antony on stage were Julia Kent (cello), Maxim Moston (violin), Rob Moose (violin, guitar), Doug Wieselman (horns), Jeff Langston (bass) and Parker Kindred (drums). On "The Crying Light" from his critically acclaimed latest release of the same name, Antony becomes the passionate poet for the damned, yearning to be saved, and with a serenity that's expressed through his angelic voice and enhanced by the flourished nuances of his chamber orchestra. Antony's lyrics are rife with mysterious beauty and with an understanding that some of the darker places in our lives are to be accepted - if not embraced. "Cripple and the Starsfish" from his debut self-titled album (2004) only magnified Antony's world with the lyrics putting a smile on every masochist's lovelorn face.
Mr. Muscle, gazing boredly
And he checking time did punch me
And I sighed and bleeded like a windfall
Happy bleedy, happy bruisy
I am very happy
So please hit me
I am very very happy
So please hurt me
I'll grow back like a Starfish
"Aeon" featured Antony's soaring voice cry for the heart of "his baby boy," as the band's subtle accompaniment grew in structure and force and actually became an equal to Antony's torn and frayed lyrics. His lilting voice cast an unusually stark contrast to his large cherubic body that was draped by his long black hair. Antony's banter was mildly jovial, and at one point addressed the current recession with this advice - "If you're going on a job interview or an audition...then I'll give you this advice...I'll tell you what to say. Fuck off - that's right... fuck off! We always go into those things scared and meek...but now you'll have the power... fuck off!"
Antony never left his piano stool - he didn't have to because his voice was the star that demanded our attention. "Twilight" was magnificent as Antony slowly, but lovingly fingered his ivories, displaying a keen command of the piano. The song would bend and break timbre and structure while featuring an outro of sublime beauty. Antony and the band then displayed their ability for some rousing pop. Even martyrs can have a bit of fun from time to time as they created a brilliant new persona for Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." "Another World" found Antony's voice take on an even more other-worldly tone. With lush melodies and barren spaces of silence that complimented the music like a grand mathematical equation. "For Today I Am A Boy" and "Epilepsy Is Dancing" continued the evening's intense and brutally honest show. The audience was held in complete rapture throughout the entire performance. An isolated cough or sneeze was intensely magnified and talking during their performance was not an option. But, after each fading note had floated away the audience stood to their feet and gave one of the most genuine and rousing ovations that I've probably witnessed in my career as a music journalist. Closing their set with the stark cry for redemption in "Hope There's Someone," Antony and the band proved that the creative bar (that which the chance for failure is magnified by daring risk) has been raised substantially.
Antony and the Johnsons are certainly not for everyone...there are quite a few who can't stand their music and are put-off by Antony's peculiar voice. But, if you are one of those who've been hooked - you'll never want to escape his strange and stunning world.
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