Antony and the Johnsons

Soaringly beautiful yet surprisingly grounded, Antony Hegarty and co light up the Waterfront

'The only time I've ever played here,' Antony Hegarty's sonorous voice intones from behind his grand piano in the centre of the Waterfront stage, 'a lady gave me a packet of magic rolos and said they'd bring good fortune.'

Touted by Lou Reed since their early days, Antony and his band, the Johnsons, have never wanted for luck: but perhaps it was the ersatz confectionery that gave them that crucial final push – a couple of months after their 2005 Empire gig they scooped the Mercury Music Prize.

Fans of Antony's stark, plaintive songs had to wait almost four years between the breakthrough record, I am a Bird Now, and his third album, The Crying Light. Released earlier this year, it is a dark, moody opus, often drenched in despondency, but live many of these same tracks exhibit an unexpectedly warm, even soulful character.

In his distinct, throaty singing voice – a curious hybrid of Boy George, Nina Simone and David Tibet – the cherub-faced Englishman delivers heartfelt songs of sadness, anomie, and, as on 'I Fell In Love With A Dead Boy' and 'For Today I am a Boy', androgynity.

The Johnsons provide the perfect foil. Their guitar, drums, wind and string accompaniment - Rob Moose's exquisite guitar tone is particularly impressive - complement but never drown out Hegarty's magnificent falsetto vocals.

Mirroring the joyous sunshine outside, Hegarty quickly warms to the generous crowd: bantering happily, introducing new songs with anecdotes, taking requests and - on 'The Crying Light' - cutting the most animated figure behind a piano this side of Elton John, fingers clicking to the beat as his sizeable frame sways in his makeshift brown robe.

An audience assisted version of 'Dust and Water' is followed by a majestic, uplifting 'Fistful of Love', which, unlike other old favourites, is indulged rather than truncated.

Two thoroughly deserved standing ovations are bookended by the fragile 'Cripple and the Starfish' before an almost uplifting 'Hope There's Someone' brings the evening to a fitting close. Soaringly beautiful yet surprisingly grounded, on this evidence Antony and the Johnsons don't need any more supernatural sweets. Good things are coming their way regardless.

Peter Geoghegan


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