Fifteen minutes before the lights go down for Anna Calvi’s album launch performance, a smoke machine perched high on one of Hoxton Hall’s balconies starts billowing its wares into the venue. Accordingly, when Calvi and her band arrive, the stage is thick with rent-an-atmosphere, white spotlights dramatically slicing through the vapours. It’s an impressive scene, but one whose artificiality is impossible to ignore. The same could be said for Calvi’s performance.
The triumph of her debut record lies just as much in its breath-taking musicianship as in its wonderfully immersive melodrama and intensity, and those latter characteristics are few and far between tonight. The playing is invariably virtuoso – not just from Calvi, but also her mind bogglingly multitasking guitar-percussion-harmonium player – and a joy to watch and to hear. But the venue, mysteriously billed as sold out weeks in advance, is only half full and the sound is flat and so quiet that audience coughs are frequently audible mid-song. On the occasions that Calvi overcomes the environment – on an exhilarating ‘Desire’ and ‘Blackout’ in particular – there’s a tantalising glimmer of the album’s glamour, but otherwise this is little more than well played pop-noir, and no way as special as it should be.
By Sam Walton
Originally published in issue 25 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. February 2011