Real Live Action

Antony and the Johnsons / The Choir Practice

September 15 @ St. Andrew’s Wesley Church

Review By Caroline Walker

I arrived at St. Andrew’s just as the openers, The Choir Practice, began their set. My party was ushered to the third pew from the front, which I felt was fortunate considering the gargantuan capacity of the building. Aside from the merch table in the foyer, the church was as it would be on any Sunday, complete with bibles and offering envelopes behind each pew. Granted, the audience was entirely dissimilar from usual church-fare, but it felt like a community nonetheless, complete with my favorite server at Slickity Jim’s, Nick and Julia of P;ano, that Cuppa Joe employee, not to mention the memorable skinny kid with extraordinarily large hair.

The Choir Practice, ten women and one man with one electric guitar, were the perfect openers for both the venue and the headliner. The repetitive verses that innocently concealed lyrics of troubled relationships were welcomed warmly by the audience as well as the acoustics of the church. These voices felt more heavenly than the Christian-rock bent that my parents’ church is currently on, and I hope to catch them in future partially out of curiosity about how their sound translates in a more standard venue.

The four Johnsons entered the stage wielding a violin, cello, bass, and guitar before Antony with his wavy black locks seated himself behind the grand piano. My only complaint was that my vantage point didn’t allow for me to see his face during performances. The opening song was “My Lady Story”, and the audience was hushed with expectation. The recent Mercury Prize winner seemed slightly nervous but hit stride nicely with his third song, “Man is the Baby” with the wrenching lyric, “forgive me, let live me.” As the set continued, it was apparent that his musicians were as deeply moved as the audience. The sentiment came across in their eyes as well as their delicate playing.

Covering Moondog’s “All is Loneliness” and Leonard Cohen’s “The Guests”, Antony succeeded in making them his own. Rather minimalist with the banter between sets made him all the more charming. After the exceptional emotionality of gender bending that is “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy”, Antony simply said “Well, that was that little ditty” and continued on with the set, which included some audience participation. Antony requested that we all hum an accompaniment, but seemed less than impressed with Vancouver’s ability. Clearly, we needed more instruction with humming a note and he delivered it in the most lovely way: “Imagine there is a small storm spinning in a circle around your throat. A tornado you’re powerless over; visualize it, you’ll be fine.”
After some more songs, including my personal favourite, “Today I am a Boy”, he simply picked up his nondescript tote, said thank you and walked off. The audience rose immediately to its feet and had the pleasure of an incredible encore. “River of Sorrow” was followed by none other than a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”. Here we were in a church, and Antony was singing lyrics based on Candy Darling’s death letter. Receiving another standing ovation, the building was a-hum with the realization that there could not possible be a more fitting end, not to mention many misty eyes.