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last night's gig

Antony and the Johnsons Transcend Death, Gender, and Bad Breakups at the Apollo

Biggs: Not Jewish.

The surprise guest at last night's Antony and the Johnsons full-orchestra concert at the Apollo? Not a Wainwright, Björk, Lou Reed, or a homeless performance artist. It was Beyoncé! Or maybe Sasha Fierce. Antony channeled Destiny's Favored Child in a rousing symphonic cover of “Crazy in Love.” The avant-garde singer pulled the same stunt at a BAM concert, but it was thrillingly new to us: His operatic but bluesy falsetto brought baroque desperation to lines like “kinda hoping you'll page me right now.” Indeed, the night's overall performance was something like a séance, with the ghostly lighting scheme shrouding the musicians in wispy shadows, and Antony, a tranny, Edward Gorey sort of character, singing (and wailing, and moaning) about tragic, supernatural creatures who transcend death, gender, and bad breakups.

The Doveman-ish “Crazy in Love” cover allowed some laughter and breathing room on a night that sometimes resembled an overly precious recital. (In actual pop-star sightings, cutie-savant Nico Mulhy, who helped with several of the arrangements, did a wave and bow at show's end.) Shuffling around in a white, floor-length gown festooned with crêpe blossoms and tubes, his overgrown black shag sometimes obscuring his face, downtown darling Antony has the softly mannish figure of Bea Arthur. As he sang mostly new material from the EP Another World and a full album due next year, we marveled at Antony's arch, awkward poses: a heaven-facing crucifix posture here, crazy-cat-lady head shake there, spastic hand twitches everywhere. The crowd, while they ate up his creepy cutesiness, were antsy for chestnuts from I Am a Bird Now, Antony's stunning 2005 album. “Sing ‘Spiraling’!” one fan screamed during an encore. (That's our favorite, too.) “You sing ‘Spiraling,’” Antony retorted in his quiet but startling baritone speaking voice. Beyoncé couldn't have put it more sassily herself.

Photo: Alia Kahan