Anjimile Chithambo first found widespread acclaim with his 2020 album “Giver Taker,” which found hope and beauty on the other side of struggles with addiction and gender identity. It was the culmination of years spent gigging around Boston while earning a music industry degree at Northeastern, slowly building a reputation as a local talent destined for bigger things.
Since then, Anjimile has relocated to Durham, N.C., and released a second album, “The King.” The new record finds the singer-songwriter using little more than vocals and acoustic guitar to craft immense, haunted soundscapes, fitting accompaniment for his unflinching reflections on familial trauma and the rage and sorrow of Black trans American life. Friday night’s show at the ICA served as both an emotional homecoming and an opportunity to bring a small but mighty songbook to life.
Opening with the gently fingerpicked “1978,” Anjimile was flanked by two backup singers, one of whom, close friend and collaborator Justine Bowe, had just performed an opening set as her solo project Photocomfort. A drummer and guitar/keyboard player then joined the trio to play several more songs from “Giver Taker,” playfully grooving on “Baby No More” and nailing the slow bloom of “Maker,” which Anjimile proudly dubbed “probably the gayest song I’ve ever written.”
The significance of this show to Anjimile became clear early, as he told the crowd he wouldn’t be talking much for fear of crying. He got more comfortable as the night went on, reminiscing about writing songs in Allston and shouting out the friend for whom “Harley” is named (who was in attendance and got gently roasted for loving attention). Combined with the intimacy of the venue, Anjimile’s endearing stage-side manner made the portion of the set devoted to “The King” hit that much harder. In a sequencing which spoke to the impossibility of separating personal and political pain, the post-George Floyd defiance of “Animal” was sandwiched between songs titled “Mother” and “Father.” “Animal” was also a testament to Anjimile’s mastery of his rich vocal instrument, along with the controlled intensity of his band, as he expressed seething fury without ever raising his voice.
He also proved himself a compelling interpreter on a solo version of TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” stripping away the original’s pounding momentum to reveal the seductive bravado at its core. By the encore, Anjimile was ready to turn up the volume, adding searing guitar leads to “Black Hole” as drummer Yan Westerlund bashed so hard a cymbal rolled off his kit with the final hit. The title track of “The King,” with its heart-racing arpeggios and biblical proclamations, was a fitting finale for an evening in which the prodigal son’s return was also a coronation.
With Photocomfort. At the ICA, Friday