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With delicate beauty, Antony tugs at the heart

When people tell you to take your Kleenex to an Antony and the Johnsons show, as the band's promoter did, they're not kidding. Everything about the group's performance at the Paradise Rock Club on Wednesday -- from frontman Antony Hegarty's tremulous warble that recalled Nina Simone, to dueling violins that played the most delicate of notes -- was tailor-made to render hearts broken.

From the beginning, it was apparent that Antony's fans, who sat in hushed reverence, take him more seriously than he takes himself. And why wouldn't they? He has said his recent album, the acclaimed ''I Am a Bird Now," is about transformation and hinges on themes of desperation, transcendence, and Antony's hope that someone ''will set my heart free."

Maybe that's why everyone seemed surprised and perhaps even relieved to see he has a sly sense of humor. ''Does anyone like Whitney [Houston]? I like her so much," he asked the crowd in earnest. Then, he improvised a snippet of Houston's ''I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," altering the words to dedicate it to, um, Shania Twain.

Even with five musicians onstage (including a violinist, guitarist, bassist, and cellist), the show always seemed a showcase for Antony's marvelous voice. ''Everything Is New" came together with a tender interplay between Antony's piano playing and his vocals. An encore of the Velvet Underground's ''Candy Says" unfolded at a hauntingly fragile pace. And on ''For Today I Am a Boy," when Antony sang, ''One day I'll grow up / I'll be a beautiful woman," you could tell everyone believed him.

Kindred spirits CocoRosie, consisting of sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady, opened the show on a particularly quixotic note. Over the muddled din of a human beatbox, harp, and programmed pet sounds courtesy of children's toys, the sisters sang cryptic lines such as ''Martin Luther, you're an angel."

By the time they dropped the artier-than-thou pretensions, they staged a pseudo hip-hop meltdown replete with amateur freestyle rapping and break dancing. But just in case you didn't understand that you were watching true arteests, they announced toward the end of their set that they had just a few more ''pieces" to perform.

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