Wednesday, 21 December 2011

You can't be a Lives Editor and not catch up with The Calvi, Mercury Prize Nominee

Anna Calvi @ Trinity Hall, Bristol

This is the tour that Anna Calvi will look back on, over the years, and highlight as a landmark moment. It’s the one that people will keep referring back to and boast about having been there, over the next decade – and not being able to say that I was there too is unthinkable. If you liked the album you will love the songs live; from the first to the last song Calvi impresses and engages.

It’s in the detail; the way she wears her guitar high and no doubt the type of guitar she chooses to play with such intricacy and flair – taking her (largely male) influences as tools for her own feminine personal expression. It’s the percussionist, the way she does not so much accompany the melody or add light and shade to a song’s mood, in the traditional sense, but plays the songs too, with an original assemble – which includes that signature harmonium.

And from the start it’s all about Anna; her poise, a penchant for red and black, and proper songs. Just like the album she opens with ‘Rider To The Sea’, the guitar solo which starts the story oozes eerie imagery; tumbleweed rolls down a dusty, deserted street, people lurk in the shadows of shop doorways. It’s a declaration of musicality and confidence. And the bold set rolls forward in to the next song, ‘No More Words’, also from the album.

The power of these songs live is unquestionable, which brings a “wow” moment for anyone in the audience who knows the LP. Clever. Calvi has worked hard to show the correct impression of her artistic personality in this set list: calm, harmonious on the surface, with fear and passion beneath – and we’re all buying it. This includes her choice of covers, starting with Elvis, ‘Surrender’, the beautiful fury (and guitar change) for ‘Wolf Like Me’ and ending with ‘Jezebel’, an early Anna Calvi release but a million seller back in the Fifties for Frankie Laine with the Norman Luboff Choir and Mitch Miller. Lots of references to devils, death and desire in these songs but the art is in the songs, the guitar sound and melody structures, the open hearted-throw-your-head-back vocal choruses. Try not joining in to the chorus of ‘Suzanne and I’ (“Oh, Suzanne!”).

So confident and composed is her performance, it takes me by surprise every time she smiles and thanks the mighty applause after each song – she clearly seems both touched and secretly relieved. A queen of serene.

Ngaire Ruth
Originally published in www.thegirlsare.com