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Gig Review Transgender diva

WILL STONE marvels at the vocal range and vulnerabilty of a remarkable virtuoso

Anohni And The Johnsons
Barbican, London


ANOHNI is finally back following the release of last year’s acclaimed My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross, marking her first album and live tour in eight years.

The album, which features the deceased LGBTQ rights activist Marsha P Johnson on the cover, is a soul-inspired classic in the school of Marvin Gaye — dealing with oppression and loss in a way reminiscent of Nina Simone — following the eco-electronic sucker punch of 2016’s Hopelessness.

Dancer Johanna Constantine, dressed in white with deer antlers, gracefully sweeps across the stage followed by Anohni, herself enveloped in a white gown, who inspires a stunned silence as she launches into Why Am I Alive Now? off latest album.

Her Johnsons, as it were, for the show are a musical ensemble featuring guitarists Jimmy Hogarth and Leo Abrahams, cellist Julia Kent, violinists Maxim Moston and Mazz Swift, multi-instrumentalist Doug Wieselman, bassists Sam Dixon and drummer Chris Vatalaro.

Anohni exudes a vulnerability that seems to complement her quivering multioctave range, and tears flood down faces as she launches into 4 Degrees with its apposite message on the climate catastrophe.

She takes time in-between songs to share moving stories and sources of inspiration, ranging from the gay and trans rights struggle, her friendship with jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott, and the destruction of indigenous communities from colonialism and oppression.

A giant projector provides a backdrop for a number of videos to be played at sporadic intervals, including an interview of Marsha P Johnson who reflects on her experiences as a trans sex worker.

The over two-hour set soon proves to be a celebration of Anohni’s work going right back to her 2005 Mercury Music award-winning album I Am A Bird Now — saving the best, Hope There’s Someone, for the encore.

There’s also Manta Ray, from the soundtrack to the documentary Racing Extinction, Drone Bomb Me, Hopelessness and a cover of civil rights traditional Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.

Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth? and It’s My Fault were among omissions that would have been the cherry atop an otherwise awe-inspiring show.

Constantine returns at the end, this time with a blood-stained torso to perform a dance dressed in black. A haunting bookend to a performance for the end of the world.

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