The stage lights remained dark during the first song of last night's devastating performance from Antony and the Johnsons, in collaboration with the Oregon Symphony. Though I was completely entranced by the lilting vocals and the rich thrum of strings, I had an awful feeling that this would be it: some sort of "conceptual" show played in the dark. Then, as the second song began, the light brightened slowly, revealing Antony swaddled in a kind of Grecian wrap.
The androgynous Antony is an amazing vocalist who has done projects with the likes of Lou Reed and Bjork, but he is particularly compelling standing alone at the foot of the stage with just a microphone. Vocally, he is somewhere between Jeff Buckly and Nina Simone. Lyrically, he has elements of a less depressed Sylvia Plath and more colloquial Gertrude Stein.
As the show progressed the orchestra was revealed behind a scrim, more light, the scrim was raised, more light, a back curtain was raised and the audience received the full, blinding brunt of a bank of lights at the back of the stage. All the while, Anotony and the orchestra moved through new tunes and favorites alike—slowly, sadly, sweetly. The only sound in the hall besides Antony's voice and the aural wash of the symphony, was the intermittent wild applause and the snuffling of audience members whose hearts were breaking.
The flow of the thing made sense in some way. Antony reveals himself so much through brutally truthful lyrics—"I am very very happy / so please hit me" (from Starfish)—he might as well be completely naked on stage. The slow dawning of the stage lights reminded me of my first time listening to Antony and the Johnsons, splayed on my living room floor, eyes closed, headphones on: "Wow that's beautiful," progressed to, "Holy shit that's amazing," and eventually I'm blinded with beauty.
Though, I'll admit, it was a less painfully blinding than those damn stage lights last night. Ouch.