Seeing music live should, ideally, heighten your love for the performers, for the music itself, as you listen to the notes mass into songs. You leave the best concerts wanting to do nothing but drown yourself in its music for the next days, weeks, months. I left the Antony & the Johnsons concert at Radio City feeling that I had just seen something truly special, something exquisitely beautiful, and all I wanted to do was cloak my brain in the memories of the music.
I’ve been enchanted by Antony Hegarty’s voice and his work with the Antony & the Johnsons group ever since I came upon “Hope There’s Someone” back in 2005. The aching, otherworldly voice stuck with me. I continued to keep track of his music, but had never had a chance to see him perform. Then I happened to see that Antony & the Johnsons was going to play in Radio City on January 26 in a collaboration with MoMA, and I bought a ticket for a seat in the highest balcony. Although I was looking forward to it, I was totally unprepared for how moving a performance it would be. (May it be noted I saw this only days after the amazing Jeff Mangum show at BAM, so the bar was already set pretty high for January concerts.) I also wasn’t prepared for Radio City. I know this isn’t breaking news, but that place is massive! It’s an art deco cavern. I was awed before the concert even started.
I also wasn’t prepared for it to be such an artistic performance. Before Antony took the stage, there was an awesome dance piece that seemed to be mimicking the flight of a bird, a building of movement mixing movements both human and avian. The concert was entitled Swanlights, and included selections from all of Antony & the Johnsons’ releases. He started with “Rapture” and “Christina’s Farm,” masked at first by a white screen in front of the stage, that finally lifted to reveal Antony in a flowing white gown, standing under a gleaming crystal sculpture. The 60 piece orchestra that accompanied him, which included members of Antony & the Johnsons, was hidden for the majority of the show behind another screen. You were left with just this strange and gorgeous voice radiating from the towering, yet delicate, person in the center of the stage. Oh, and lots of lasers.
Every song was a highlight, including the cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” (Watch video above.) He totally transforms the song, slowing it down, bringing out the desperation from the bravado.
It was a lovely moment near the end when the orchestra was finally revealed. (I came close to tears so many times at this thing, as I do with beautiful things, which is why I don’t mind going to certain shows by myself.) I also loved that, when the concert had reached this height where you almost thought maybe this was just some strange ghost or angel not of this earth, that Antony, exhausted, expressed his relief that the concert was nearly over in his disarmingly charming accent.
The song I’ve had on repeat since the concert is “Salt Silver Oxygen” (watch above), which imagines Christ being reborn as a woman. There are so many amazing moments in this song that I have yet to get tired of it. The lyrics, the shifts, the crescendos, everything is beautiful.
These videos really don’t give the concert justice. So much of it was being in the space itself, and being with this music, so wonderfully orchestrated and performed. It’s another one of those concerts I feel lucky to have seen.