Boundaries are smudged in an Antony and the Johnsons perf. Nothing is clear. Not his tremulously androgynous voice; not his appearance — in a black wig and black blouse covered by ripped mesh he looked oddly goth and butch — (his first words from the stage are a shout out to “Sexual Outlaw” author John Rechy); not his gender-bending songs, with their bruised pleas for resolution; and not even the music, as Antony keeps his foot squarely planted on the third pedal of his piano so the chords decay slowly, their notes bleeding into one another.
With his slurred phrasing and back-of-the-throat croon, he hovers just on the edge of a sob, his unique vocals the mesmerizing center of an emotional wringer. Simultaneously tender and resilient, “Hope There’s Someone” and “For Today I Am a Boy” manage to find common ground with Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Nico (whose “Alone” is reverently covered). Slow building yet ardent, the songs mix singer-songwriter confessionals with bluesy melodies and an appealing touch of perversity that’s stunning for its heart-on-the-sleeve rapturousness.
There’s also a puckish humor to Antony’s performance. Breaking away from the set list, he improvises a song about cellist Julia Kent, calling her a “backwards fox” — an idea he found terribly amusing, although Kent and guitarist Rob Moose (both of whom provided the songs with lovely shadings) appeared to be perplexed. He stopped a droning piano solo to joke that the occasional coughs from the audience sounded like a chorus of frogs, then added his own coughs to the mix.