Anna Calvi - Monolith Cocktail 2

Anna Calvi delivers an esoteric blues sermon to a Brighton congregation, supported by the diaphanous electro-swoon of  Woman’s Hour.

 

11th February 2014 at the All Saints Church, Hove 

Envisioned no doubt as the ultimate sacrosanct theatre in which to create a transcendental, nee ethereal, atmosphere, the Eucharist All Saints Church in Hove provides not only the obvious trappings and history of christianity but also offers an acoustic challenge for those willing to brave it. No empyreal choir offering mana to God or the lofty aspirations of Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh here, this is not so much a holy communion but a temptation.

The set up may have suggested otherwise and the ‘no-alcohol’ on consecrated ground rule may have been a little over-doing it, but then this cold inhospitable damp February night suited a hot cup of char rather than dirty back wash of liquor. It was a crisp night, hardly elevated by the church’s hollow grandiose interior and bare scattered radiators – mostly guarded by those quick enough to spot them. I’d never seen so many people still donning hats, scarves, gloves and coats at a gig this far south of the ice palaces of Reykjavik before; resembling a bonfire night display rather than intimate concert.

Entertained or rather setting the mood, the background music was an odd mix of Christian trance and tropical birdcall – flashbacks to the early 90s world trance and techno of Banco de Gaia, Seefeel and The Orb. Contrary to their famous Radio 4 female chat inspired moniker, the support act Woman’s Hour are in fact three blokes and one wispy enchantress. Out in the front, vaguely caressing the ether in elegiac wanting despair, their singer Fiona Jane cooed a Esben and the Witch like esoteric malady over a sophisticated and diaphanous sweet electro pop backing. They began well with a pulsing moiety of flashing lights and heart-permeating kick drum, but unfortunately withered by their third song. Still, they do compliment their top billing host and offer a safe passage.

The ecclesiastical was pushed to its limits, the exotic tiny bird yet comely woman figure of Anna Calvi giving a floor show to make the clergy blush: withering in ecstasy like St.Teresa of Ávila; bending her only protection, the resonating charged tremelo guitar, into submission – though it’s difficult to tell who’s taming who sometimes. Dressed to kill like the muse that Picasso and Man Ray could never hope to ever devour, her hair and red painted lips straight out of a Tamara de Lempicka portrait, cheekbones chiseled by Bernini (steady on!), Calvi commands every breathe in the vestry. From the first reverberating struck note of ‘Suzanne And I’ through the near perfect setlist, collected from both of her albums and some careful, congruous, cover versions, Calvi was mesmerising; the so often counterbalance between fragility and damning never so perfectly executed. I make no apologies…she is one of the mysterious enigmas of our time in the rock’n’roll and blues tradition; extending an atavistic plaintive theme of existential angst, torturous lovelorn despair and raw sex.

Better live than on record, her redemptive recordings have never sounded so tremblingly haunted and hypnotic. And when Calvi launches into both ‘Desire’ and ‘Eliza’ (two of the greatest quasi-Orbison meets PJ Harvey imbued twanged and exciting records of the last decade) she has no equals. Her soothing siren allurement would have broken me into pieces upon the stage if it wasn’t for my much harassed back giving out half way through the performance. But I was fixated by her strange moody twanged version of Springsteen‘s ‘Fire’ (sung in a raspy contralto style and made far more sexy than the Boss’ original); in love by the time she blissfully launched into the spooked Siouxsie and the Banshee eastern marimba voyage ‘Carry Me Over’; and seductively beguiled by ‘First We Kiss’.

Out on a limb, even smacking of indulgence if not platitude, but I will say this could be the performance to cement what many of us already knew: that Calvi is a unique talent, one to be cherished and definitely seen live.

Anna Calvi - Monolith Cocktail

PS: Despite accolades coming thick and fast and countless nominations, Calvi is still swimming against the tide: not crossing over into any sort of commercial success yet not quite edgy and experimental enough either. Losing out to PJ Harvey in what is a fatuous award ceremony to begin with, the Mercury prize has still sadly eluded Calvi. Even though most blogs, zines and the press fated her and casually bandy her name around. However, I would like to point out that last year’s One Breath, was singularly hailed in the Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice albums’ of 2013 – an LP sadly missing from all other lists I might add. You can read that review here…..

‘Despite the hardened and resolute, smoky-eyed, projection, Anna Calvi’s venerability illuminates like a beacon. Her make-up is applied in the manner of a mask or administered like battle paint to ward off fragility and hurt. Yet musically Calvi embodies an atavistic maelstrom of emotionally trembled anguish and hope.’

Anna Calvi - Monolith Cocktail 3

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