Antony And The Johnsons: Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London: Monday, Dec 5

Antony And The Johnsons: Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London: Monday, Dec 5

The freaks are out to celebrate the NYC underdog’s amazing year

Cast your mind back to that glorious night in September; a night when corporate music men (and it’s always men), identikit indie losers, and their filthy, industry-soiled champions took a battering by a lolloping, impeccably turned out young man called Antony Hegarty. A man with the physique of a rugby prop, and a voice that marked the mid-point where jazz goddess Nina Simone’s quavering falsetto stopped and the sound of a dying swan’s last gasp began. Remember the longing smile you shared with every freak, weirdo and misshape as they hoiked their hopes and aspirations on the ample shoulders of this curious creation. Remember the night individuality won.

Felt good didn’t it? And tonight, on the first appearance of a two-night stand in London’s plush Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Mercury Prize winner is still cradling the burden of selfdom with flexed muscles and a bumbled smirk. That he arrives onstage in what appears to be a fluffy, green, oversized baby’s romper suit only underlines his desire to be the being he is. To be himself and himself only. Is he a man? Is he a girl? Nah, he’s a human being, and tonight, one that commands reverence with each stab at the ivory keys that lay at the foot of his chubby digits. As he cues up a skeletal take on ‘For Today I Am A Boy’, backed by the deft touches of his loyal foot soldiers, the Johnsons, the sense of hushed reverence that hangs in the air creates a fog that intoxicates every soul in the room. And as he introduces his former mentor Boy George to accompany him on his achingly beautiful torch song ‘You Are My Sister’, it’s actually the ex-Culture Club singer who plays the subordinate role – himself seemingly in thrall to the gentle (green) giant sat there beside him.

You’d imagine (with weary resignation) that a being like Antony has had a rough time in life. You’d imagine in his darkest hours – like anyone who doesn’t quite fit the homogenised mould our society expects – that he dreamt of finding a place like tonight, in the looming surrounds of the Empire, where he might find space to run around, play, and be free. His playthings, the heartstrings of his assembled, respond with unconditional admiration, book-ending his interpretations of obscure NYC street poet/wino Moondog’s ‘All Is Loneliness’ and Canadian bard Leonard Cohen’s ‘Guests’ with absolute rapture. Meanwhile, his hushed reading of the Velvet Underground’s precious and pretty ‘Candy Says’ throbs with longing, and heartbreak – and ultimately – hope. It seals our love with tempered, touching grace.

Tonight, for the multiple same-sex unisons that fill the room (proof more than anything that Antony’s magic is reaching those rarely reached out to) the big, the small, the short, the tall, the white, the black, and all the beautiful variations inbetween Antony is our champion. On nights like tonight, we’re still winning.

James Jam