Concert Review: Indie-Folk Sensation Anjimile at the ICA

By Paul Robicheau

The heart of Friday’s performance came in stark impressions borne through Anjimile’s vulnerable voice — along with a little help from his friends.

Anjimile (center) with Justine Bowe and Sarah Grella at the ICA. Photo: Paul Robicheau

Anjimile faced an emotional homecoming of sorts on Friday at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Now based in North Carolina, the singer/songwriter recalled moving to Boston as a “young, gay cherub” at age 18, before he became an indie-folk sensation. Now 30, he told a near-full house at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater that he marveled at being paid to play a museum he once paid to visit, as harbor lights twinkled through the towering glass wall behind him.

The concert followed the release of Anjimile’s acclaimed second album The King, which reflects on the challenges of being Black, queer, and trans. There was added reason for the singer to feel a bit teary-eyed — and for fans to feel fortunate at the ICA. Longtime bestie and collaborator Justine Bowe opened the show solo under her stage persona Photocomfort, trading between a piano/synth and harp to sing clarion songs of friendship, and then returned to join Anjimile for several tunes.

Anjimile at the ICA. Photo: Paul Robicheau

The pair arrived onstage with arms entwined, before Bowe and fellow local singer Sarah Grella flanked Anjimile for the first five songs of his 70-minute set. They began with “1978,” a rumination on his grandmother which earned top honors from WBUR for a video in NPR’s 2018 Tiny Desktop Concert contest, the women lending spectral harmonies to lyrics like “I’ve never seen her face, but I think she looks like us” and “I could fall asleep in your love.”

Likewise affecting were a haunting “In Your Eyes” (not the Peter Gabriel tune), the lighter bop “Baby No More,” and especially the cyclically melodic “Maker,” its Afro-pop feel accented by drummer Yan Westerlund’s rim shots and guitarist Matt Peterson’s electric trills, complementing Anjimile’s fingerpicked acoustic. “I’m not just a boy, I’m a man,” he sang, “I’m not just a man, I’m a God. I’m not just a God, I’m a maker.”

Backup singers departed, Anjimile stretched out on a batch of newer tunes subtly augmented by his two bandmates. “Animal” cast firmer weight with hard chords and tom-tom beats on a song that reflects anger over police brutality, before the singer quietly dug deep into the emotions of “Father” and “Anybody,” songs addressing his parents’ difficult view of his past alcohol addiction and gender transition.

Departing from the acoustic fingerpicking he favored most of the set, Anjimile returned to electric guitar for a solo cover of TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” chewing words like “My body’s stained, but God, I like it” with a huskier tone. He also surprised with a biting, humming solo in “Genesis” and grungy guitar in “The Right.” And when Bowe returned for the encore, Anjimile sparked “Black Hole” with a staccato guitar burst that evoked King Crimson, setting up a clamorous prog-rock jam that ended with one of Westerlund’s cymbals flying off the kit.

The set’s sonic evolution was a far cry from the somber orchestral shades of The King, where Anjimile and producer Shawn Everett surrounded vocals with instrumental sounds created almost solely on acoustic guitar. But the heart of Friday’s performance came in stark impressions borne through Anjimile’s vulnerable voice — along with a little help from his friends.

Paul Robicheau served more than 20 years as contributing editor for music at the Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He was also the founding arts editor of Boston Metro.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts