The virtuosity of Anna Calvi‘s guitar playing, and to a lesser extent the range of her vocal ability, is slightly underplayed on record. Both of her albums, Anna Calvi and One Breath, are doubtless displays of her talent as a songwriter and a performer but live is where she lets people know just how good she really is.
Vicar Street is slow to fill but fill it does, just as Calvi arrives on stage to perform ‘Suzanne & I’ as her band join her. It’s a faultless start to the gig. The contrast between the chorus and the verse is so stark as Calvi reverts to her circular variation of a strum that it definitively sets the tone for the rest of the night. Her three piece backing band join her for ‘Eliza’ and it is business as usual, Calvi’s sultry, vibrato voice sounding rich and effortless, almost louche, as she yet again displays her skill at picking out a riff.
“I stand on the edge of silence” she sings during ‘Suddenly’, which fittingly features a kind of breakdown before lurching back to life. The band are clearly adept at recreating the loud/quiet/loud arrangements which feature heavily on Calvi’s records. But how just four musicians can muster up such an intricate weave of sound is astonishing. ‘Love of my Life’ is a straight forward belter that allows the band to flex their collective muscles but again the song’s appeal comes directly from Anna Calvi’s guitar playing.
There is a sexually charged element to Calvi’s live shows that she herself as attributed to “the animalistic power of lust”. Lusty, rather than trashy sexuality, is the perfect description for her performance as there is no need for skimpy attire or props to make her point. The few times she addresses the crowd are done so appreciatively, but when she steps back behind the mic stand she once again becomes the supremely confident visual vacuum and focal point of the performance. All eyes are on her and, like the late Jeff Buckley before her, she has the ability to captivate audiences with every note she plays.
A cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Fire’, followed by ‘Desire’ and ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ bring the first part of the set to a close. The latter with a scorching guitar solo and proof once more that guitar heroes aren’t all made from the same mold. ‘Bleed Into Me’ and ‘Jezebel’ make up the encore and the omission of ‘Blackout’ is a slight disappointment but this was still a fine performance from one of the few genuinely unique artists in modern music.
Photo by Olga Kuzmenko.