For someone who was lacking confidence in her voice until her early 20s, Anna Calvi displays no lack of confidence on the live stage in the here and now. Nor does she lack any confidence it seems with her inventive guitar playing, or her stage persona in general, as she more than amply demonstrated here with this stunning show.
Softly spoken in real life, we knew what she was about the last time she played Brighton, at exactly the same venue some five years ago. However, tonight she pushed the boat out even further, totally enrapturing a pin drop sell out audience within the hallowed confines of this Grade I listed high vaulted Anglican church.
Despite being upfront about her music and the meanings therein in interview, the raven haired, and red flamenco cropped jacket wearing artist is a woman of dew words on the stage, preferring to let the music, and the performance, speak for itself. She freely roamed around the stage performing her stunning new album, Hunter, plus a few songs from her debut album, aided by a narrow runway into the crowd, which allowed them and her to get up close and personal.
Beginning with the instrumental and dazzling electric guitar work of ‘Rider to the Sea’, tonight’s sound is a close replica of her recorded work, and beautifully engineered (churches are notoriously difficult to contain, particularly in controlling drum and bass reverb). This was highlighted by new album track, the deep and dark ‘Indies or Paradise’, replete with coruscating slide work, before tackling ‘As A Man’, representing the theme of the album – about dismantling stereotypes, and gender roles – along with ‘Alpha’. While on ‘Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy’, she aggressively takes the microphone out of the stand on the ‘formal’ stage, and stalks up and down the runway, as she really lets rip with vocal pyrotechnics, akin to Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig in the Sky’. As an album, Hunter is both elegant and raw, hard and soft. As she shows on the luscious and dreamy ‘Swimming Pool’, counterbalanced by 2011’s big, proud, and epic ‘The Devil’.
Towards the end she finally speaks, to introduce her two bandmates, before launching into an encore that includes another track from her debut album, ‘Suzanne and I’, and an atmospheric, gently pulsing take on Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, a bookend of sorts to ‘Rider to the Sea’.
It’s a measured and theatrical performance, not too long, with no filler. Her voice is expressive, her guitar playing equally so, and the songs are carefully crafted exercises in space and dynamics. The devil may be in her, but so is a wonderfully warm, yet exuberant artist, one totally in control of her craft, and with surface confidence in spades.