Saturday, May 23, 2009

Antony & The Johnsons @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Friday 22nd May 2009

I’ve been in awe of Antony and his music pretty much from the moment I first became aware of him when he made the Mercury short list a few years back. ‘Hope There’s Someone’ is a simply stunning song delivered in that tremulous and unique voice of his – part Bessie Smith, part Yma Sumac. Musically, as in the rest of life I guess, I’m drawn to the outsider. They’re the people that make the world bearable…and they’re a dying breed. I blame the internets intermess. It’s turning us into a vacuous bunch of self obsessed morons who’ll end up posting images of our own faeces before too much longer and gibbering like gibbons on AudioBoo or whatever else some spotty 18 year old dreams up in Ohio. Still I suppose it keeps everyone occupied while the real world goes down the tubes. Truly the internet is the opium of the people (and yes, I’m aware of the ‘pot calling the kettle black-ness’ of putting all this down on a blog but, hell, I’m as vacuous as the next man).

By a strange quirk of fate the intermess prevented me from getting tickets for this show when they came on sale, then enabled me to get a pair just a day before the gig. I’m not a fan of buying stuff online, not too keen on my credit card being used by a bunch of crims in some far off land. So I did it the old skool way originally and went in to the Symph Hall box office on the day the tickets came on sale. There were tickets left…the seats were around 14,000ft from the stage, just outside Acocks Green I think. Naturally they were the same price as all the other seats. Bargain. So I left it…cursing the evil scum who had no doubt bought hundreds just to flog on ebay. Sure enough, when I checked, there they were. Dozens of ‘em. They ranged from the cheeky £40 per ticket (based on a face value of £25) to the downright sick £100 a ticket…EVIL SCUM. I had kind of resigned myself to missing the gig but thought I’d check back on ebay the day beforehand to see if any genuine sales had come up (people who really couldn’t go). Lo…a miracle! A pair of tickets…ROW C…for £40 quid…the pair. Met the seller in a pub car park the same afternoon (dodgy? moi?), paid in cash. Deal done.

Anyway, enough with the techno-ranting, we still have the music and, if it’s real emotion you’re after (not the e-variety) Antony is in a world of his own. Like Baby Dee he’s one of those artists that you either do or don’t ‘get’. For the believers he turned the Symph Hall into an alternative universe for the night…a place to just float in…enveloped by that voice, those twisted fairy tale style lyrics yearning for transformation, freedom, someone to love and be loved by. It’s strong stuff and, in the hands (and voice) of a lesser man, it could prove too cheesy, too weird or just too darn depressing. For me it’s the physicality of the man, balanced with his voice that makes it all work though. Like that episode of the Simpsons (when Michael Jackson is a big white guy) the two component parts don’t seem to go together - all too aware of this, much of Antony’s lyrics hint at wanting to be someone or something else. Just listen to ‘For Today I Am A Boy’ for example. Someone put that voice in that body for a reason and I’m damn glad they did. But, and this was kind of the big surprise of the evening, he’s a jolly funny chap too, a sort of cross between a dotty maiden aunt and Julian Clary. I got the sense he’d be quite happy just sitting there chatting with the audience, which is just what he did on more than one occasion prompting a couple of heckles to ‘just sing another song’. ‘Oh right’ he replied ‘yes some people do get a bit nervous during these bits’ hinting at the fact that people might like the voice but perhaps don’t want to be confronted by the man behind it? Could be. We got treated to a story of his dreams too, in which Jesus returns to the earth as an Afghan girl who lives in a cave (cos the rest of the earth is underwater)...then she walks on water to prove she's Jesus. At this stage in the development of the human race I wouldn't rule anything out. He's quite keen on the idea of a matriachal society too and reckons we'll all be better off if the world was ruled by women. It's an interesting idea but I get the feeling that ladies are just as capable of fucking up the planet as men other words it's the individual not the gender that makes all the difference. But that's a whole new can of worms. Song wise we were treated to all the hits together with a healthy dose of tracks from the new album. No Beyonce 'Crazy In Love' cover though (he was asked to do it but gently refused...although he was impressed when the audience told him Beyonce was in Brum on Saturday night...don't be surprised if you see him there on the front row). Anyway, he was charming, even if he did hold his nose to simulate diving into despair during the intro of ‘Hope There’s Someone’ and moan about how depressing it was (sacrilege!). Fast forward a few years and I half expect to see Antony fronting Scissor Sisters…it could just be me but I think she’s ready to party - maybe that’s the real transformation that Antony’s been seeking all these years.

NB: Photo's were banned during the performance (but I snuck a cheeky one in right at the end...flashless) and the stage was a dark as a very dark place...hence the poorer than normal image. That's my excuse anyway.

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