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Review: Anna Calvi – 03/10/18 – Boiler Shop, Newcastle

05/10/2018

Anna Calvi enters the stage alone. She picks up a guitar with chipped paintwork and begins to play ‘Rider To The Sea’ in a trance like state; easily the most skilful guitarist I have seen live…

Calvi moves in a serpentine fashion, both when playing the instrument in her possession and as an overall performer. Her facial expression is menacing.

She navigates the fretboard at lightning speed. Sometimes it’s with sliding, sometimes with rapid chord changes and melodies.

Her strumming style also greatly varies – from finger picking to using a pick and moving her hand in a circular motion, isolating each string pluck as though she’s playing a harp.

Her skills, vocals and presence are something otherworldly. So much so that you can almost envision that she has made some kind of pact with the devil.

One song into the night, the audience are in deep but no one wants to escape her clutches. By this point she has also been joined by her band, two percussionists.

One is a male on a traditional kit setup bar the addition of what looks like a couple of hand drums. The other instrumentalist is a female with a combination of synths, spiralled cymbals and chimes.

Anna gives off an air of being part villainous Hollywood screen siren and part ethereal creature on ‘Away.’ Perhaps she’s like an actual siren? Her singing would definitely be mesmerising enough to bewitch sailors and drive them into the ocean.

This all dissolves briefly when her theatrics are tuned into a more base, human frequency on ‘Hunter.’ This is one of the best cuts from her latest album of the same name. It’s a cinematic and a beautiful juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability. The rendition is so moving that it almost makes me well up.

Calvi plays with gender convention on ‘As A Man,’ ‘I’ll Be Your Man,’ and ‘Alpha.’ Her persona is dominant and self assured, liberated from the shackles of having to fully conform to masculine or feminine energy.

 

‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out of My boy,’ meanwhile is another emotive number. Anna’s vocals are at their most powerful. She drops to her knees towards the end of the song abandoning guitar duties with microphone in hand. She makes wailing sounds but somehow they feel controlled and tuneful enough to contribute to the song positively.

The lighting, which has been predominantly red for the evening turns to white on ‘Swimming Pool’. It’s a brief moment of calm in the middle of the storm. Calvi’s strumming mimics the rippling of water in gentle, unpredictable patterns.

In spite of the serenity of the instrumentals, Calvi manages to bring an eeriness to the track with her hypnotic vocals.

After this slower offering, the singer songwriter takes the audience back out into the wild on ‘Wish’ and ‘Desire’, which bled into one another.

Calvi swiped her guitar strings and contorted her body. The percussion and guitar seemed to wrestle with one another, grasping for the power.

The crowd respond to these songs as they have been for every number: with rapturous applause. Apart from these moments, everyone is in awed silence, taking in the performance.

Although Anna and her band must have used so much energy, they had maintained enough for an encore. Much to everyone’s delight.

Her setlist choices were a little unexpected but the payoff was great. Percussively driven ‘Suzanne and I,’ smouldered. It sounded like a supercharged James Bond theme, only more chilling.

The final final track of the night was a cover of Suicide’s synth punk track ‘Ghost Rider.’ It was the most disorderly song from the whole night and just incredible to watch. Anna must have felt absolutely kick ass walking off the stage. She left the audience still wanting more. They are also left wondering why she isn’t one of the biggest artists in the world.

WORDS: TESSA BURY

PHOTOS: VICTORIA WAI

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