Greg Wetherall was lucky enough to witness to live return of the art rock songstress who delivered a stunning set of classic and new numbers.
Date published: 26th Jun 2018
Image: Jon Mo
Anna Calvi is back after an almost two-year live absence and her demeanour smacks of a soul meaning serious business. What has changed? Well, there’s more drama. There’s more theatre. There’s greater showmanship. Everything is just a bit more. And yet, by ramping up the ante, a nagging question springs forth: has she lost a little something along the way?
In lining up a three-city pre-album release mini tour, and upon reading the press release announcing the impending new album ‘Hunter’, which was decreed as ‘a queer and a feminist record’, it was surely no coincidence that Calvi opted for London’s gay nightclub Heaven as the place to launch her affairs domestically.
With a catwalk leading out like a tentacle from the main stage and bathed in red light, she inched her way to the centre-point for a solo take of delicate new song ‘Away’. Plaintive and purring, it proved to be the calm before the proverbial storm.
From there, the band launched into ‘Indies or Paradise’, itself replete with 80s influences that fizzed and popped irrepressibly. Calvi repeated the mantra ‘your beauty will come save me’ before conjuring bloodcurdling slide guitar, stalking the walkway like a chanteuse possessed.
New material was frontloaded into the set. ‘As a Man’ left its mark with a nagging, insistent melody. ‘Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy’ was the sole familiar newie, and the one that garnered the first cheer of recognition of the night, before ‘Suzanne and I’ was greeted like a long lost friend.
As events unfurled, Calvi propagated the impression of artist galvanised and buoyed by the political fire that fuels her new record. All mannered contortions and wild abandon, she embodied her recent words, ‘’I want to go beyond gender. I don’t want to have to choose between the male and female in me” and, in the live setting, the dialectic of this new material is a source of liberation for her.
As a performer, she has never been quite so interactive with her audience. Bent upon her knees she fixed her gaze upon specific audience members. It might strike some as affected, but it also felt vital and urgent. In terms of her set list, old songs were plucked almost exclusively from her debut. The rock n’ roll shuffle of ‘I’ll Be Your Man’ and the taut drama of ‘No More Words’ glistened and, of the new songs, she saved some of the most striking for last, with ‘Chain’ and ‘Wish’ standing tallest.
A spine tingling rendition of ‘Sing to Me’ emerged as possibly the highlight of the night; showcasing her wondrous talents sublimely, before ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ and ‘Ghost Rider’ brought matters to a close. An ecstatic crowd bayed for more, but we return to our opening concern.
Ironically, in trying to blur the lines of gender, it is arguable that she has also sacrificed some of her own unique identity to the outside eye. The music and the delivery now evoke ever-increasing semblances to St Vincent and even Nick Cave (the latter a long cited source of inspiration). The sound is also now slightly more attuned to current trends.
Underneath it all though, Anna Calvi has always been a career artist. One that will no doubt turn a little left and a little right as her voyage rumbles on: a talent for the ages and one that is here to stay.
Upon witnessing this efficient, robust comeback, Heaven knows it’s true too.