Antony gets compared to a ghost or an angel a lot; dressing up like a transgender Robert Smith and singing decaying-cabaret ditties about death in a fluttery warble will do that to a guy. But the avant-art-folk diva’s performance with his chamber group the Johnsons at Town Hall July 28 revealed him to be just as much an earthbound goof as a celestial being. Sure, the exquisite sadness of numbers from his sumptuous new album
I Am a Bird Now—like the glorious, gender-defying “For Today I Am a Boy”
and the lonely dirge “Hope There’s Someone”—was intensified by the elegance of the venue. Yet Antony couldn’t help but inject some downtown camp and mischief into this decidedly uptown evening.
“You may be concerned about the lack of . . . [pregnant pause] upbeat songs,” he joked after a heart-shredding rendition of “You Are My Sister.” “I can assure you, I’m working on it.” Then he covered Nico’s dour “Afraid.” Hardy har har. Earlier, Antony led the audience in rounds of whistling and humming. (“I want you to imagine a circle of dust in your throat. Pretend this is yoga class.”) When he introduced bearish bassist Jeff Langston, he cooed about how he was a cavewoman in a past life, and Langston was his caveman. Langston grinned sheepishly as Antony made goo-goo eyes and tossed the tresses of his long black wig.
Still, not all of the humor in Antony and the Johnsons’ hour-and-a-half-long set was intentional. When he became particularly wrapped up in a deathbed sigh or moan of longing, Antony squirmed on his piano bench like a cross between Stevie Wonder and a beached seal. His broad shoulders convulsed under his tattered, witchy shawl, he stuck his nose in the air, he wiggled his butt, and he made faces like he’d just downed a fistful of jalape peppers. Nobody else seemed to find all this as funny as I did. But when he sang the title to “I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy,” a snarky giggle snaked through the crowd. It was as if to say, “Yeah, duh, of course you did.”