Just like great athletes have career defining moments, so, too, do musicians. For Pulp, it was their last minute fill-in for an imploding Stone Roses on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995, still regarded as one of the festival’s finest performances. For Nirvana, it was their seminal performance on MTV’s Unplugged that served to showcase a side of the band never before seen. These performances put accomplished artists into a spotlight that they hadn’t yet occupied.
For Antony Hegarty, that moment came in 2005 at the Sydney Opera House. Asked to perform a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” for the I’m Your Man concert film tribute to the legendary songwriter, he delivered, without question, the most stirring performance of the evening. He was still a month shy of the release of his breakthrough album, I Am a Bird Now, so to most people in the audience, Antony was probably an unknown figure, especially when sharing the stage with Nick Cave, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker and others. But more so than any other artist on stage that evening, Antony seemed to nail the emotions hidden in the work. Antony’s gift as an interpreter of songs written by others was on full display in this moment.
Cohen’s original has a darker, resigned tone to it that seems frustrated at the singer’s lack of control over his own existence. But Antony turns the song into an uplifting paean to the freedom of surrender and the joy that comes from believing that one’s existence, abilities and accomplishments are, indeed, the will of something greater. His wavering, trembling voice sounds like a suppliant worshiper who has come to an understanding not easily found. One pictures Antony almost like Sir Galahad finding the Holy Grail – at the precipice of some great revelation that will leave him permanently changed for the better. words/ j neas
MP3: Antony and the Johnsons :: If It Be Your Will (live)