Progressive rock bands need lighting effects. Antony Hegarty, the possessor of as extraordinary a voice as any of the audience at the first of his Manchester International Festival dates is ever likely to hear, does not.
The ingenious lighting by Paul Normandie and Chris Levine that encase the singer in a variety of shimmering crystalline effects is impressive, but redundant. Hegarty's voice is what holds the audience spell-bound.
He¹s wondrously strange and astonishingly lovely in his sad, accepting otherness. Clad in a weirdly, deliberately misshapen white robe with a touch of the Leigh Bowerys about it, the transgendered Hegarty looks like a cross between Alison Moyet and a dumpling Messiah. His oddness comes with a touching compassion. He sings hymns about loving dead boys and the happiness to be found in a masochistic love affair, and makes it beautiful.
Despite the neon aurora borealis swirling around his head, Hegarty doesn¹t offer any of the discotastic pleasures of his Hercules and Love Affair persona. The nearest we get to jollity is when he turns Beyonce's cheery Crazy In Love into an existential torch-song about obsession. For Today I Am A Boy, from 2005's Mercury Prize-winning I Am A Bird Now, is joyously affirmative, and Cripple And The Starfish, from his first album, is so transcendent it almost seems to stop time.
The bulk of the night's material, though, comes from this year's The Crying Light album. Wonderfully backed by Manchester Camerata, the songs that on record seem fragile are given a grandeur that matches their theme of mourning and celebrating the natural world. Hegarty's voice, rather than being outfaced by the orchestra, seems to revel in matching its rich, full sound.
However, the most memorable moment is one of great delicacy. As Hegarty sings the elegiac Another World, which mourns nature under environmental threat, the stage is cast in darkness. As he sings
lyrics including 'I need anther world.. this one's nearly gone,' soft red shooting stars seem to fall gently all around him: light and song in sad, sublime harmony.
Tina Jackson, Metro
Monday 6 July, 2009
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