Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Cry of Dreams – Antony and the Johnsons, The Southern Theater, 02/04/09

“I wonder, in all of science fiction, if there have been
two universes this discordant, or what it means
that there can be a suffering so intense its balance only
exists somewhere in the next life.”
-Albert Goldbarth, “The Elements”

No, I didn’t go to the Antony show in 2002.  At the time I’d heard that record but thought it was a novelty, it didn’t click for me until the second album but that, and the new one The Crying Light, are both wonders.  So even though he’s playing in NY at Town Hall while we’re there, I wanted to see him at the Southern and support something like this coming to Columbus in the first place.

Matthea Baim opened on electric guitar and her voice and guitar, including loops and delay, set up a low key expanse of silence and expectation, the rhythms yawned wide and stretched, and I didn’t leave struck by any of the songs specifically but I also left intrigued to hear more of her.

Antony came out on piano and vocals, backed by Julia Kent on cello, Maxie Moston on violin (who I last saw playing with Baby Dee at the Knitting Factory last fall), Rob Moose on violin, acoustic guitar and vocals,  Parker Kindred on drums and vocals, Jeff Langston on bass, and Doug Wieselman on reeds and electric guitar.

The arrangements and orchestrations on record, many done by Nico Muhly and Moston, sculpt landscapes and cityscapes out of ice and spun sugar so the songs are light filtering through them, the arrangements sometimes work as a lens and aperture, changing the granulation and field of vision of the writing.  In this smallish group, every move had a chamber music purpose, the two violins dueling like two guitars, or one setting up the line while the other scraped dark maroon and brown behind the lit main imagine, like a Rembrandt painting or a Hogarth etching. 

The text matters, matters deeply, if you don’t believe in the desire to carve someone’s name on the back of the sun or a boy shedding his self like a chrysalis and becoming a girl, then not only am I sorry for you, but the songs just won’t work.  At the same time, it’s a mistake to confuse his keening, swirling vibrato and octave jumps for sadness, the cry in his voice gathers people like the preacher on the mount and as it acknowledges the way the world will fail you and betray you it reaches for the sky because things can be different and better, even if it’s only inside ourselves.

I had chills and gooseflesh all over and found myself in tears during “The Crying Light” and wanted to dance the Slim Harpo hipshake during “Shake that Devil” replete with vintage jukejoint shout-vocals and a sax solo worthy of the late Lee Allen or David “Fathead” Newman.  And the cover of “Crazy in Love” may have been the best cover of anything I’ve ever heard.  If there’s a better show this year, it will have been a great year.  And with Chuck Prophet, last night’s Larkin Grimm, and some top-notch local sets by El Jesus, The Beatdowns, Night Family, and Sandwich, the year’s already shaping up to be aces.


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