Anna Calvi Live Review @ The Harley Hotel/ Bar (Sheffield) - 24 Feb 2011
Photo: Simon Godley link
Britain's got talent. And her name is Anna Calvi. Having spent three years holed out in her parents' basement she was to finally emerge with the material for what would be her eponymous debut album. This was released last month to the sort of adulation once only afforded visiting Hollywood stars or football teams parading through their home towns on an open top bus the day after their cup victory. The source of this untrammelled joy was ten huge slabs of deliciously overblown and occasionally overwrought symphonic popular music, the majority of which can be heard this evening in this bar in Sheffield's downtown Harley hotel. But whereas on the album these songs are realised as either outsized themes for imaginary cinematic scores or sheer microcosms of contemporary grandiloquence, on stage they are stripped back to what is most surely their constituent parts. Visceral, vulnerable and quite majestically vehement they stand alone tonight. And then there is that voice. Calvi's spooky, spectral, sparse guitar, Mally Harpez's percussive assortment and beautifully wheezing harmonium, and the rhythmic tattoo of Daniel Maiden-Wood's drums, together they create the perfect aural landscape for that voice. And what a voice it is.
Opening with the minor epic and dust bowl instrumental "Rider to the Sea", at a point where Paris, Texas meets Sketches of Spain, the voice remains suppressed and eerily silent. But then it starts to emerge as a whispered caress through the shrouded mist of "No More Words" before mutating into a tortured suffocated sexual moan on "I'll Be Your Man". By the time the band have hit "Suzanne and I" some five songs in Anna Calvi's voice is finally unleashed in all of its passion, power and glory. And when that moment does arrive it is something very special. Filling the room with its clarity and resonance, the sound is a compelling force with an understated self-assurance which belies Calvi's fragile persona and on-stage demeanour. Thereafter her voice swoops and soars across a divide which seems to span Siouxsie Sioux and both the Marias McKee and Callas. Unequal parts torch singer, chanteuse and faux-operatic it takes countless forms but is always greater than the sum of its many splendid parts. "Surrender", owing more to its Neapolitan roots than Elvis's 1961 hit, erupts full of once dormant desire and a barely controlled sexual repression, whilst "Desire" itself is torn away from the quasi-pomposity of its album's anthemic origin to reveal itself as an equally stirring yet much more intimate call to a lover's arms.
This is at once a taut, expressive and febrile sound, full of fire and water. It smoulders, burns and smoulders again before being re-ignited one last time. The flames are finally doused in one final wink of Edith Piaf's "Jezebel" eye. The night may have been over but for Anna Calvi you suspect that the journey has only really just begun.