(Photos: Ric Brooks)

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“Fuck Beyonce!”

The voice cut though the still darkness, rattling the audience, an inappropriate bookend to Antony and the Johnsons’ chilling cover of “Crazy in Love.”

Maybe someone gasped but only that epithet lingered on the air, slicing apart the crystalline reverie the band had spent half the show creating, its mundane harshness bursting the magical balloon of song in which we all had floated.

“Stop the show,” Antony muttered, at first bemused and then irritated. “Why would you say that? You must be joking.” The band sat in silence, mouths stretched into solid lines of concern. Antony began to doodle on the piano. “Beyonce is sacred,” he said. Then he began to talk about a visit to the John Muir woods where he saw some redwood trees, covered in a pillow of green moss. “What have I done to deserve seeing this?” he asked, still picking away at the piano, interrupting his story with a few sung ‘Thank yous.’ Then he called for the band to play “You Are My Sister,” instructing them to “hit the nail on the head.”

An hour earlier, Antony and his six piece band took the stage at the historic Moore Theatre to perform a 17 song set heavy on tracks from his latest album The Crying Light. Swaddled in a brown robe, Antony sat at his Steinway stage right, launching into B-side “Where is My Power?”

Nothing can prepare one for the shocking power of Antony’s voice in person. Even a devoted listener to his albums cannot comprehend the beauty and command he wields with those beautiful pipes. When the band next played “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground,” I could not stop the tears from springing into my eyes. But it’s not the voice that caused such a reaction, it’s Antony’s passion and vulnerability in performance. From my close seat, I could see how he paused before each song to ready himself, will up the emotion to continue. After seeing countless shows of bands going through the motions and big stadium theatrics, it is touching to encounter someone totally possessed by their art.

After beautiful versions of “Epilepsy is Dancing” and “One Dove,” Antony began “For Today I Am a Boy,” from his critically lauded I Am a Bird Now, but paused to wait out rousing applause. He folded his hands and waited with resignation before beginning again. The show continued with a rendition of “Kiss My Name” that did not compare to the album version, the beautiful “Everglade” where he admitted to flubbing a chord at the end, a version of “Another World” that eschewed the songs normal spare beauty for a symphonic wall of stringed sound, a rousing interpretation of “Shake That Devil” and then “Crazy in Love.”

Once he finished an impassioned version of “Sister,” Antony apologized for being weird, professing the comment had spun him out. The person in the audience apologized and Antony told him it was more about things that had been playing on the forefront of his mind, sharing a cryptic story about a trip to see friends in Vancouver and mentioning perspective and White Privilege. He appeared to be back on track and played an amazing version of “Fistful of Love,” a slow-burner that featured stellar guitar from Doug Wieselman.

Antony then walked off the stage to retrieve the words for “I Was Young When I Left Home,” a naked Bob Dylan cover featuring only Rob Moose on the guitar. The track, appearing on the Dark is the Night compilation, was a nice surprise, a one-off song that no one seemed to expect.

The band finished the first set by reaching back in the catalog with “Twilight” and then a stunning version of the new “Aeon.” While the version on the album only hints at the songs majesty, Antony allowed its full potential to ring through in this live setting. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

After a brief respite, they all returned for the encore. As desperate audience members called out song titles, Antony asked them to stop, saying it embarrassed him to hear people calling his songs by name. After a brief story about his great-grandfather coming to the US to peddle shoes and then returning to Ireland, he played “Cripple and the Starfish.” “I am happy/ So please hit me/ I am happy/ So please hurt me,“coupled with “I feel your fist/ And I know its out of love” from “Fistful of Love” proved too much for me. Once again, the tears began to well. That’s Antony right there: brutal sadness set to a beautiful melody. The show ended with “Hope There’s Someone,” most of the song just Antony alone on the piano before the band helped finish matters with a crushing crescendo. More stirring applause and the brief hope Antony would return. Then the lights came up, and that ethereal moment of beauty became memory.

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