A Mercury nominee and a sell out show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire; 2011 has certainly been the year for Anna Calvi.
Opening the show in her usual manner with ‘Rider to the Sea’; an operatic excess of electric guitar given a voice and an array of emotions thanks to her deft knowledge of her instrument; Calvi proved her guitar skills more than on par with a voice both frightfully passionate and full of a sumptuous richness. She is scarily evocative of Jeff Buckley’s vocal range and indulgent guitarwork, and too seems to share a certain tenderness, speaking rarely throughout the performance, never quite daring to break the threatening tenacity of the aura she creates, uniformed in a dazzling red.
Supported on stage with drummer Daniel Maiden and Mally Harpaz on harmonium, guitar, percussion and synthesiser, Calvi’s set glistened with intricate electric guitar and subtle touches of accompanying percussion and drumming which ranged from the subtly atmospheric, allowing Calvi to garner the mood, to a full on theatrical bombast matching its counterpart.
Performing for just over an hour, tracks from her eponymous debut grew in intensity live, and where there was a darkness in their recorded selves they slipped deeper still into these on stage. While Calvi’s darker, dirgier direction on a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Surrender’ stripped the song back to simply electric guitar, snare drum and music box, and in such a minimalism converted it from the joyousness of Presley’s proclamations to a haunting, threatening seduction. Live our Londonder could perhaps, bizarrely be criticised for being that bit too polished, teetering a line between the theatrical and the distanced. Mesmerising as her compositions are they feel untouchable, something you can’t quite tap into on a personal level due to their grandiose presentations but it is entirely for this reason that she seems to have won such acclaim; for this air of mystery, passion, possession and otherworldliness.
At the best of times Shepherd’s Bush has its faults and for Calvi’s performance, unfortunately there was no exception. The sound gathered in the pit, cut off from the back part of the venue and simply wasn’t loud enough, while the venue staff exhibited as much a lack of respect for their customers as for their performer as shouts of security disrupted much of the opening of her set. These are minor criticisms, only serving to show just how stellar this live performance would be in a setting with better acoustics and weightier ambiance. Calvi is most certainly in her prime, and it is with anticipation that we wait to see what 2012 holds.
Video on the night
Live at Sheperds Bush
Anna Calvi performing Frankie Lane’s 1951 UK hit ‘Jezebel’:
Love won’t be Leaving
Tracks from: Anna Calvi