If Antony Hegarty didn't exist, Lou Reed would have surely invented him. It would be in a song called, say, "Antony Says," an elegantly twinkling ballad wrapped up in fishnet, mascara and doom, about an anguished androgyne with a canary-in-the-coal-mine voice that makes grown men cry inwardly, singing about the crack in the center of everything, where the light gets in.
Fortunately for the devoted at the half-full Keswick Theatre on Monday night, Antony is all too real. For it was there that Antony and the Johnsons set the twilight reeling, and that voice - an eerie, otherwordly sound, smooth as butter, like crushed velvet, like mercy itself - pierced the darkened theater like a ray of light. You could hear it with your ears, of course, but more importantly you felt it in your heart, like the chest-rattling whomp of fireworks reporting in the distance.
Sitting behind a grand piano, with an inky mop of hair, wearing something loose, flowing and creamy (it was hard to see much with the stage lights kept dim as a brothel, just the way the notoriously shy headliner likes it) and accompanied by a faultless six-piece chamber-pop ensemble, Antony drew liberally from the just-out The Crying Light, the sultry, slow-burning follow-up to his 2005 Mercury Prize-winning breakthrough, I Am A Bird Now.
There was the stately funereal march "Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground" followed by the torchy surrealism of "Epilepsy Is Dancing" and the bluesy rave-up of "Shake That Devil" - all in fine fettle. Likewise, older touchstones like "Hope There's Someone," "You Are My Sister" and "For Today I Am a Boy" were delivered with a airy intensity and a soulful precision that the faithful would reward with two standing ovations before the night was over.
Although Antony has a maudlin rep, the man seemed happy as a clam Monday night, giddily scat-singing Beyoncé's "Crazy In Love" and joking with the audience that, not having played the piano in two years, he was hitting so many sour notes that he must "have lemons on the end of my fingers." (Not true on both counts.)
"So, I have been to Fishtown," he announced with unrepressed glee in a faint British accent, explaining that he often visits a friend who recently moved to the neighborhood, and how he fell in love with the, um, local color. "I never saw such a thing!... Astonishing ruins! I am quite fond of ruins."