Live Review: Anna Calvi at Leeds Cockpit – 16th November 2011

By on Friday, 2nd December 2011 at 2:00 pm

According to the blogosphere, Anna Calvi’s music is average. To be more specific, 6 out of 10 average. But when you learn that that six is the average of three and nine out of ten, depending on who you consult, things take a more interesting turn. The NME are believers, praising Calvi’s “sumptuous Gothic”; Drowned in Soundare somewhat more pessimisticly oblique, and I quote: “…whether the dominant sound of twenny-‘leven will be something like the Florence-ization of tabloid-friendly alternative culture…” Eh? Answers on a postcard, please.

This sort of contrasting critique must be very confusing for the artists concerned. After all, they have been ploughing their own furrow for many years, gradually becoming more sure who they are and how they want to express themselves; a vibrant sun in an orbiting solar system of opinion. But, opinion counts, and the respectful yet assertive Leeds crowd tonight spares no opportunity to make theirs heard. Shouts of “We love you, Anna!” garnering a bashful smile; moments after the crescendo of ‘Suzanne and I’ (video here, the call of “Who’s this Suzanne then?”, receiving no factual response. It wasn’t audible, but the imagined, muttered postscript, “Lucky bitch!” hangs heavy in the air.

If a musician turns up with a minimalist setup, sans backing tracks, and has the guts to play their sumptuous album with the sparest of accompaniment, it’s brave. When they succeed in portraying their music in a new light, and make one miss the flummery of production not one jot, it’s a triumph, and so it is with Calvi tonight. Accompanied by a drummer and a percussionist (who doubles on that table-bound squeezebox thing that no-one knows the name of), this is essentially a naked performance, the emotion and musical prowess Calvi’s alone. On record her guitar playing is part of the musical firmament; tonight it is front and centre, the first evidence of which being the languorous intro of Rider To The Sea, with its blend of blues riffs, sweep-picking and Buckley-esque suspended chords. When she rattles off a rapid descending lick, straddling the fine yet imperative line between pentatonic and chromatic, the ease of execution takes the breath away. The fact that such superb technique is almost hidden, made subservient to the song, and only revealed in its service, is equally impressive.

Her slight frame attired in trademark red blouse, high-waisted trousers and red lipstick, Calvi is quite the madam, at once vulnerable yet aloof, domineering yet timidly appreciative. The material is certainly arch, but is that really a problem? The musical equivalent of prancing around a crumbling gothic pile in the Cotswolds, swishing a scarlet cloak and falling back into whichever dusty four-poster bed takes one’s fancy, all the better to weep in tribute to lost love – don’t we all aspire to such outbursts of demonstrative introspection? The spirit of Jeff Buckley hangs heavy over proceedings: he’s there in the breathy, vibratoed vocals; in the reverbed, throaty guitar, constantly teetering on the brink of overdrive.

Calvi clearly wears her heart on her sleeve, which always leaves a naked flank vulnerable to criticism, and sometimes downright ridicule. But she can’t be faulted for effort, nor indeed can the skilful execution be criticised. An embryonic example of potential? Certainly… but hugely impressive and enjoyable nonetheless.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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