Magical performance by Antony and the Johnsons at Luglio Suona Bene

She's So Blue

It was back in 2005 when I first saw Antony Hegarty in concert in Rome. I remember the brief, intense evening very well, during which Antony performed in semi-darkness, his face mostly hidden under a shapeless hat, a seemingly pathologically shy performer, who nevertheless held the audience spellbound by the power of his angelic voice. I've since seen him sing some half a dozen times over the last few years – with various incarnations of The Johnsons, with orchestras, and in the performance art piece Turning with Charles Atlas – and at every show he has revealed another facet of his on-stage persona. The Antony I saw performing on Monday evening in the Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica as part of the Luglio Suona Bene open air concert programme, however, brought something entirely new to the mix: an apparent delight at being on stage.

It was a staggeringly good performance. His voice sounded deeper and richer than ever before, as he pushed it to previously unexplored ranges, during a fascinating, sophisticated, and always surprising setlist of songs by other composers, which opened with a sublime For All We Know (a Billie Holiday cover) and closed with Lou Reed's Candy Says in the encore, and revisited Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive on the way. It would be difficult to choose a favourite moment – how does one pick highlights in the presence of perfection? - but certainly his version of Jimmy Scott's Motherless Child, which he dedicated to gay children growing up under oppressive regimes all over the world, was enthralling, as was the chillingly hypnotic murder ballad The Cruel Mother (recorded by English folk singer Shirley Collins). Antony's own songs – Cripple and the Starfish, and You are my Sister brought spontaneous whoops and cheers, but it was Cut the World that would have blown the roof off the venue if there had been one, and provoked an amused chuckle and “Ah! So you liked that one,” from Antony.

Under the musical direction of Steven Bernstein, Antony's voice was never merely accompanied by the seven astoundingly good jazz musicians on stage – it became the eighth element in the musical arrangements. Indeed, after he had introduced the band members, he knelt before them during the long audience applause. Leaving the Cavea to a standing ovation, and rapturous cheers, he waved goodnight with the words “Till we meet again”. I plan to be there. Antony just gets better and better.
  • Antony - voice, piano
  • Steven Bernstein - musical director, trombone, soprano trombone, flugelhorn
  • Julian Joseph - piano, electric organ
  • Douglas Wieselman - clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone sax
  • Renaud Gabriel Pion - bass clarinet, bass flute, baritone sax, English horn
  • Leo Abrahams - guitar
  • Bradley Jones – bass
  • Kenny Wollesen - drums, percussion, vibraphone