The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


November 2005

Antony & The Johnsons

Antony and the Johnsons, Carling Academy

The male rock star, if one considers a lineage that runs from Jagger to Gallagher, is brash, egotistical, indulgent and in concert is happy to drown in beer swill and choke on cigarette smoke.

Antony Hegarty ticks none of these boxes, yet cannot be mistaken for anything other than a star, despite being too old, sensitive and understated to conform to type. By contrast, he is graced with a voice, presence and charisma that few (with the exception of Rufus Wainwright) of his contemporaries can muster.

Locked behind his piano, he makes a packed venue fall silent in rapt appreciation as he works through a 90 minutes set that rarely raises its tone and volume beyond that of a confessional whisper. These are sad, beautiful songs, which are drenched in strings but sung with an abandon and joy that is genuinely transfixing.

The highpoints of this year’s ‘I Am A Bird Now’ are met with polite, anticipatory applause. ‘My Lady Story’, ‘Spiralling’ and ‘You Are My Sister’ all succeed in adding colour to their recorded versions, even if it is a dark shade of blue.

The cover versions are equally instructive. Moondog’s ‘All Is Loneliness’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Guests’ and a stunning finale in the form of Lou Reed’s ‘Candy Says’ are all skilfully adapted to the mood of the event, yet make for another of Hegarty’s many contradictions. In choosing male writers, he avoids the obvious female influences on his own voice and work.

It is this continual confounding of expectations and pursuing an utterly singular path that make Antony a bona fide star, exemplified by the one new song, ‘Trust Your Mother.’

The only disappointment is the venue: built for bombastic rock and the accompanying response, some of the subtlety of the music is inevitably lost in the clamour of beer selling.


Vini Reilly

A random thought

Vini Reilly = underappreciated genius. Only about 70 people at Durutti Column show at The Arches. A Scandal.

Phil Collins

Phil Collins, SECC Glasgow

If 30 years in showbiz have taught Phil Collins anything, then he has learned that starting your show with Peter Kay as master of ceremonies and following it with two drum solos means that everything that follows appears positively brilliant by comparison.

It is an easy stunt for someone with Collins’s resources to pull. Surrounding himself with his selection of the world’s finest session musicians, six fantastic singers and a light-show that has no doubt put excessive strain on the national grid, it would be factually inaccurate to report that Phil Collins looked or sounded anything less than perfect.

But it is significant that his mix-and-match musical appropriations and limited, facile songwriting remains as difficult to love as it did in its heyday 20 years ago.

Where others would make the same component parts appear soulful and joyous, Collins produces a show wherein he appears to be the main problem.
The drum solos, the plundering of talents far greater than his own and the implausibly self-satisfied, earnest delivery all contributes to the vacuous sheen of the event.

Though this is clearly pop music, he appears to view the likes of Two Hearts, Paradise and the show-stopping Sussudio as works of richly crafted art. Musically, they wither next to the cover versions, which are uniformly better songs like You Can’t Hurry Love and True Colours and maintain the production values of the eighties, a decade when good taste often overlooked pop music.

As this is supposedly his final solo tour, the finale offers the rare opportunity to write his live obituary. In this respect, file Collins under slick, dated, and empty. His musical legacy is limited.

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