Live review: Anna Calvi at the Troxy
PUBLISHED: 16:26 11 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:26 11 February 2014
The operatic guitar virtuoso's set on Saturday cemented her reputation as one of Britain's most talented new performers
Squashed nearer to the back of the Troxy than we were the front, it was strange to think we were here to see a relatively new and upcoming artist. This sizable venue, with its frilly but deceptively modern decor, proved perfect metaphorical accompaniment to Anna Calvi’s operatic charm, but most immediately apparent was the fact that she simply had the place filled out like a festival headliner.
Appearing out of the dark in a pint-sized package of lipstick and high trousers, Calvi quickly launched into ‘Suzanne and I’. An early fan favourite from her eponymous debut, it shimmers with glamourous, Bond-esque riffs before descending into an undeniably seductive chorus. The pedigree of her songwriting means that even in the subtler songs, you find yourself waiting as much in anticipation for the verse melodies as you do for the chorus, and often it makes it hard to determine which is which.
A good example of this came three songs in with ‘Suddenly’ – the opener to last year’s ‘One Breath’ LP – but even as one of the album’s most eligible singles, it faded comparatively out of consciousness as Calvi began to find her range. It’s unclear what defines this musician more – her guitar playing, which borders on arm-extension virtuosity, or her impossibly euphoric vocals. Ultimately it matters little, as most of her spine-tingling moments come when the two coalesce and crescendo in unison.
It is in these moments that you also sense what makes Anna Calvi so refreshing. While much of her guitar work is rooted in Hendrix old school, the culmination of her sound is one of uninhibited melodrama that stands in stark contrast to many of her more fashionably controlled contemporaries.
At their bombastic peak, songs like ‘Sing for me’ create a whirlwind of religious emotion, while all the time Calvi stands composed, barely offering a word between songs and only truly letting loose when embarking upon one of her rare rock goddess solos. When these come, you can’t help but crane your neck to see how such fretboard-fluidity is possible, but thankfully she uses them sparingly as set pieces to decorate, rather than define, her song craft.
Take one look at her stage presence and it’s all too clear that showing off just wouldn’t suit Calvi anyway. Most acts who refrain from talking to their audience come across as slightly above it all, yet there’s a humbleness exuded here that’s sometimes hard to differentiate from shyness. It’s all very endearing and makes her completely extroverted songwriting all the more engaging.
As her reputation and venue sizes grow, you imagine Calvi’s live offering would benefit further from a larger orchestral ensemble. Even so, by the time she finished this set with Frankie Lane cover ‘Jezabel’, the whole Troxy crowd was converted. This is melodrama at its most heartfelt and it makes you feel alive.