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Antony & the Johnsons, Shivaree

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I would've expected Antony & the Johnsons to grate on my nerves. Antony is a New York cabaret artist and scenester who's toured as one of Lou Reed's backup singers, and on his new second album, I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian), Reed contributes backing vocals alongside the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, and Devendra Banhart--so the persistent theme of loneliness in the lyrics smells like a self-indulgent put-on, at least on paper. Many of Antony's songs also address his failure to feel that he's either a man or a woman, and while I'm convinced his identity crisis is genuine, it also happens to give him a badge of authentic weirdness to flash at jaded hipsters. But when I actually listened to I Am a Bird Now, it blew past my bullshit detector and made me cry my squinty eyes out. Antony has a delicate touch on piano and organ, and the album's warm analog sound makes me feel like the whole band's hiding inside my stereo--but what really gets me is the ethereal, flexible, fragile-seeming but steel-strong voice the lucky cross-dressing bastard was blessed with. He can deliver lyrics like "One day I'll grow up and be a beautiful woman...One day I'll grow up and feel the power in me . . . For today I am a boy" without a wisp of affectation. And his teeny individual longings, transfigured by the gospel uplift of his melodies and the grace of the sparse arrangements, become anthems of impossible desire. --Ann Sterzinger

On Shivaree's third album, Who's Got Trouble? (Zoe), guitarist Duke McVinnie, keyboardist Danny McGough, and singer Ambrosia Parsley sound almost like a rock band, even though half the elements in their music predate the genre and the other half postdate it: they apply electronic loops and modern production flourishes to noirish Tin Pan Alley pop. Parsley's baby-girl warble makes her sound like a 1940s torch singer with a Billie Holiday fixation, and a sense of impending danger lurks in her lyrics despite the sugarcoated delivery. Shivaree's 1999 debut paired her voice with postmodern country pastiche, but the darker backdrops of the new disc crank up the delicious tension between sinister and sweet--Parsley is by far the most arresting thing about the band, and she's never been more effective. --Peter Margasak

Shivaree opens and Antony & the Johnsons headline. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. In a second show on Saturday, the set order is reversed.

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