Friday, February 27, 2009

Antony and the Johnsons and Fleur De Lys, San Francisco

Life Is Good
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
In spite of what the content on this blog may suggest, there’s something that I love even more than food. And that’s music. I just never get around to writing about music. That's about to change...

Tuesday night saw the real reason for my trip to San Francisco, the Antony and the Johnson’s gig at the Nob Hill Masonic Centre. It was all shaping up to be a perfect Binky evening, with dinner beforehand at Fleur De Lys, although I wasn’t looking forward to walking up California in those heels.

I’ve written before about how I think I am over fine dining, and then somewhere will be recommended and I go back, like a dog returning to its own vomit. As I get older (or is it wiser? I’m never sure) I become sure that life is about what’s true and pure and beautiful. I don’t find a lot of restaurants that are any of these things, but I keep finding music that highlights all of the fan-tab-u-lous things in life.

So Tuesday was a a night of two halves. First up, a meal that contained very little truth or beauty. Just perfectly fine ingredients with lots of fuss and zhuzh. The menu read very well, with lots of things I thought I might like to eat, but I’d been called “madam” twice within five minutes of arriving and was getting really pissed off. When did I tip? There was a time when “miss” and “madame” ran concurrently, one pulling in front of the other depending on how recently I’d had a facial. But I no longer ever get a “miss”. It’s madame all the way. Waiters of the world, if a single lady is…actually, forget the single and forget the age. Just call me miss.

First out, an amuse of chestnut mousse with a slightly suspicious texture and little flavour. My starter, a sort of mega-mix of a lot of signature dishes entitled "Symphony of...", had got me all excited, because I love eating a miniature of anything, but it was all so dull, so soulless, that the most exciting thing on the plate was the salad with a nice bitey dressing. The centerpiece, a fondant of choucroute with caviar was notable for being the only time I have seen a use for a single sprout leaf (as the receptacle for the caviar). It was like the Borrowers were at the pass, doing the garnishing. Then a quail, boned out and stuffed with ris de veau, spinach and pine nuts, which was just dull. A cheese plate followed. I was glad I hadn’t ordered a desert. The visual highlight of the evening was my friend’s lamb, two medallions, which were garnished with two tiny pearls of carrot. They reminded me of teenage breasts with very perky nipples.

Which gives me a suitable juncture to tell you about Antony Hegarty. Six foot five, identifies as transgendered, Antony has one of those voices that has everyone reaching for the superlatives. His is a queer voice, different, non-normative, that fills your soul and has you humming lyrics about cutting off your breasts.

Antony’s music is challenging; he celebrates the emotional and often physical violence of relationships with lyrics like “It’s true that I always wanted love to be hurtful. And it’s true I always wanted love to be filled with pain and bruises” (from The Cripple and the Starfish.). It’s transformative, alternately hopeful and hopeless and about the flux of life “Still have too many dreams. Never seen the light. I need another world. A place where I can go.”(from Another World). It’s ambiguous; one minute he talks about being a girl, a sister and at other times he is a boy. It’s never clear if Antony is speaking about himself, a persona or perhaps even you. Judging by the crowd and the tears at the Nob Hill Masonic Centre, many people find their own truth in his music.

Given his roots in drag and performance art, it’s at first surprising to realise that he’s going to sit at his piano, with his chamber pop orchestra and sing. No visuals, just clever lighting that ebbs and flows along with the intensity of the music and the odd fluttering hand gesture. His voice is as powerful live as recorded, all the more astonishing for realizing that this glorious noise is coming from another human being. The set contained songs from all of his recordings, all subtly rearranged. So “Fistful of Love”, without the heating up from the scorching horns on the album version, is stripped down and more evidently about a lover celebrating his bruises. During tonight’s performance it was so tightly wound, without the release of the album version, like waiting for a punch to the face that doesn’t come. At the end I realized I had stopped breathing.

Antony has a unique way with covers, and while I don’t want him to become the new Cat Power, his version of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” removes the sassy, splashy sounds (and Jay-Z, thank god) and concentrates on the “crazy” rather than the "in love". It’s twitchy, itchy and in spite of getting a laugh when he sings “got me hoping you’ll page me right now”, perfectly outlines his talent to find truth and beauty in the oddest of places.

The whole tour is sold out, so I can't tell you go and get tickets. You can listen to him sing Crazy in Love though

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Blogger Chris Stevenson said...

I agree about the meal - I enjoyed Fleur de Lys much more when dining in jeans at the bar than at the table with the pretentiousness. I think it hit me when you said (whispered) 'God its quiet in here'. Quiet can be a reverent sound - or the sound of ennui.

As for the sounds of Antony - that concert was the sound of reverence and a spiritual shared experience. He sang the pain of a lot of people in that hall.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Thinking Aloud said...

Wow. Stonking writing there Suzi. In fact, I can't wait to read a review of a band I've heard to see how you describe it.

Sorry - meant to say Miss Suzi. ;o)

7:29 AM  

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