Artist of the Week: Antony & The Johnsons

Every so many years, an artist (a musician in this case) comes along that distinguishes themselves from the rest. One may not be able to fathom this particular person’s musical abilities, but there are few and far between that may share their talent. We, as listeners or fans, may not be able to comprehend the beauty and capacity that the artist has because of their extreme talent. In this particular case, I am speaking of Antony Hegarty, best known as the brains and vocalist behind the New York City based outfit Antony and the Johnsons.

Hegarty was born in Sussex, England in 1971. His family later relocated to California  in 1981 when he was just ten years old. At the young age of 19, Antony moved to New York City to attend The Experimental Theatre Wing of NYU, a program that prepares students to make their own work and to collaborate with experimental and mainstream theatre artists. During the Summer of 1992, Antony founded the Blacklips Performance Cult with Johanna Constantine and Psychotic Eve. The troupe was an avant garde drag performance outfit that grew to 15 members in a very short amount of time. They performed for three years together, ending in 1995.  It was with this troupe that Antony started to gain attention for his voice. He performed songs with the Blacklips such as “Cripple and the Starfish” and “Blue Angel” which later were released on Antony and the Johnsons 1998 self-titled debut. The album was later re-released by the Bloomington, Indiana-based indie label, Secretly Canadian.

The Johnsons second full length album, I Am a Bird Now, was released in February of 2005. The album won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, a music prize awarded for the best album from the United Kingdom or Ireland. Several music critics did not agree that the band deserved the award as Antony was British but the band was based in America. The album helped  Antony and the Johnson’s to gain a wider audience and more mainstream attention.

I Am a Bird Now featured an all star cast of musicians including Devendra Banhart, Boy George (a musical hero of Antony’s from his youth), Julia Kent (formerly of Rasputina), Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright and Joan Wasser of Joan as Policewoman, just to name a few. The album explored Antony’s sexuality and transgender life. He has publicly declared that he would rather be considered trans-gender versus gay. Tracks like, “My Lady Story” (My lady story/ Is one of annihilation/ My lady story/ Is one of breast amputation), “For Today I Am a Boy” (One day I’ll grow up/ I’ll be a beautiful woman/ One day I’ll grow up/  I’ll be a beautiful girl/ But for today I am a child/ For today I am a boy) and “Bird Gerhl” (Cause I’m a bird girl/ And the bird girls go to heaven/ I’m a bird girl/ And the bird girls can fly ) explore these subjects about his life. The album was a strong, personal piece that boasted 10 powerful songs. It was this piece of work that gave Antony a pathway into his fan’s hearts. It also left his fans earnestly waiting for and wanting a follow up.

Fast forward to January 2009. The newest work of Antony Hegarty and his band The Johnson’s is The Crying Light. As with any follow up to a brilliant piece of work, The Crying Light is easier to criticize when compared to I Am a Bird Now. If you can ignore Antony’s voice (even if his vocals are one of the most important attributes to his music) the arrangements are very well done and they support his voice every so delicately. I believe this album has more depth – it is not as easy to read between the lines and the lyrics as in his previous work. There is an obvious air of growth that is captured on The Crying Light, one that may not be noticed upon first listen to this beautiful piece of art. As it takes time to grow and develop a taste, you will also notice each song growing and developing in presence with each listen. A more mature and confident Antony Hegarty appears on this album, the songs are less about longing and sadness and more about personal experience and maturation. There are subtle background percussive sounds, vocals and strings that magically appear through the album, making it very dream-like. Each song is different in tone, texture and mood. The Crying Light proves to be a brilliant follow-up to I am a Bird Now. After the first listen I am sure fans of Antony will agree.

Fans of Antony and the Johnsons must see them live. It is truly an amazing experience. Starting Febuary 2nd, the band will be going on tour through selected parts of the United States, then on to Europe for an extensive run. The current lineup of musicians consists of Julia Kent, Maxim Moston, Jeff Langston, Rob Moose, Parker Kindred, Thomas Bartlett, Kevin Barker and Doug Wieselman.

-Lottie

Live!

Feb 2 2009 at Keswick Theatre – Philadelphia, PA
Feb 3 2009 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue – Washington, DC
Feb 4 2009 at Southern Theatre – Columbus, OH
Feb 7 2009 at Big Ears Festival – Knoxville, TN
Feb 8 2009 at Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
Feb 12 2009 at Vic Theatre – Chicago, IL
Feb 13 2009 at Pabst Theatre -Milwaukee, WI
Feb 14 2009 at Pantages Theatre – Minneapolis, MN
Feb 17 2009 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Toronto, Ontario
Feb 19 2009 at Town Hall – New York, New NY
Feb 20 2009 at Town Hall – New York, NY
Feb 22 2009 at Berklee Performance Center – Boston, MA
Feb 24 2009 at Nob Hill Masonic Center – San Francisco, CA
Feb 27 2009 at The Vogue Theatre – Vancouver, British Columbia
Feb 28 2009 at Moore Theatre – Seattle, WA
Mar 15 2009 at Griedhallen – Bergen, Norway
Mar 17 2009 at Sentrum Scene – Oslo, Norway

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