Anna Calvi - Live At Islington Assembly Hall, London

Showcasing 'One Breath' material...
Anna Calvi 2013

Only the day after her new album ‘One Breath’ (Clash review) is released, Anna Calvi takes a bold step into a venue not quite established on the London circuit.

That said, the Islington Assembly Hall is an inspired choice – even if the audience seem a little unsure how to act in a room that is more used to speeches from local councillors.

Calvi unveils opening song ‘Suzanne & I’ with such intent it is as if we just need to be reminded what a force she can be, but the audience appears subdued.

The new album starts to unfold after our curt reminder with ‘Eliza’, which is greeted with a huge cheer even though throughout the song no one moves a muscle. Another new album track follows, to show us where Calvi’s mind is at in 2013 with close-to-the-bone lyrics: “I stand on the edge of sadness that I can’t face,” and, “Tell your heart to jump to another.”

Loss didn’t feature prominently on Calvi’s 2011 debut but tonight it looms large. On recent single ‘Sing To Me’ the object of her affection has “God on your skin”, ambiguous as to whether or not she is the lover or the beloved.

As Calvi roars into the still-stunning ‘Blackout’ we in the crowd “must try harder” as our teachers would say. Calvi is doing all the hard work but, as the band starts the first of many wig-outs, so the audience finally begins to engage with the performance on an obvious physical level.

The mood isn’t lightening up though, as on ‘Piece By Piece’ we are informed, “I will forget you”. That’s us told, then; or is this more rhetoric aimed at the poor soul who dared to light her fire?

Calvi is mesmerising on stage, even when she is doing nothing. It is that quality that makes an entire venue want to peer and stare. The barman has plenty of time to check his phone, as we’re too busy gazing at Calvi and her band, now augmented by a flat-capped keyboardist, to buy drinks.

One detail that strikes you when you first attend a Calvi gig, and one that grabs us tonight, is the table of goodies on stage – musical goodies, that is. Band member Mally Harpaz’s sole duty is to survey the aforementioned table and see what odd instrument best fits the song in question. And each number finds room for these strange, yet completely logical, sonic brushes.

It is these additions to the sound that take Calvi’s songs away from being conventional and into another category entirely, both sonically and vocally as she also makes great use of the yearning tones that belong to drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood.

Now that the audience has finally woken up we are rewarded with a thumping version of ‘Desire’ performed with such force that many think it’s the final song. Thankfully we have the encore to look forward to, and another new song, ‘Bleed Into Me’.

Spot-lit and furrowed of brow, Calvi lets it all out and proclaims, “You’ve got the kind of love I need.” So while it may not be a rabid audience that is satisfying her, something is.

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Words: James Young           

Read an interview with Anna Calvi here

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