Tag Archives: Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi, The Troxy, London, February 8 2014


English singer/songwriter/guitarist Anna Calvi doesn’t seem to be that well known to the great music buying public, possibly because she doesn’t fit neatly into any convenient marketing category, but on the evidence of last night’s gig at The Troxy in east London (a rather beautiful venue, incidentally, which looks like it was a probably a ballroom in a former life) she deserves to be a major star. Her restrained appearance, non-existent stage banter and tastefully minimal back-up band (drummer, keyboard player and percussionist, with the latter two occasionally taking turns on bass) don’t give much of a clue to what’s coming, but believe me, this was a full-on rock’n’roll monster of a set.

Calvi’s stock-in-trade is to set up broody, pulsing atmospherics in which her impeccably twangy electric guitar conjures up lovelorn encounters in oppressive badland locales before soaring operatic choruses dramatically raise the stakes – it’s impressive on record, but quite astonishing to witness live. Imagine the soundtrack to a desert-set David Lynch movie suddenly ramping up into a full-blown torch song and you’re getting somewhere close. Flame-haired divas whose lung-power can fill a hall without the aid of a PA system are not so unusual, but Calvi’s unique in being a genuine guitar hero too, with a technical grasp and inventive flair that would put a lot of prog-rock veterans to shame. She hardly ever resorts to mere strumming while she’s singing, usually picking out spare but ingenious riffs and counter-melodies but sometimes pulling off complex and quite alarmingly ferocious wig-outs. I don’t normally comment on or even notice the lighting at gigs, but here the lightshow complements the music with rare taste and effectiveness, picking Calvi and her Fender out in silhouette as she shreds her way through her solos. The dominant colour is red, which fits as Calvi’s songs seem be to be constantly evoking images of heat, passion and flame, and her choice of Springsteen’s “Fire” as a cover version couldn’t be more appropriate. The pacing, arrangements and dynamics of these songs are highly impressive: none of them seem to go on a second longer than they need to and they all seem as spare and pruned of extraneous layers of sound as they could possible be. The sound in the room is excellent, with Calvi’s powerful vocals ringing out even in the loudest passages and lots of lovely reverb-y space in the quiet parts.

After an encore featuring her rousing singles Blackout and Jezebel Calvi calls it a night…at this venue, anyway. A solo show follows straight on at a pub down the road for those lucky ticket holders not reliant on public transport to get home. She’s an amazing talent, and her profile might get considerably higher before too long: with this much command of the whole sultry/operatic thing surely a Bond theme sometime soon is an inevitability? See her if you get the chance.


The Maxon House 2011 CD: tasting notes

So this is my hundredth post, and I was thinking I should use it for something suitably pompous like a list of films of the year or new acts to watch out for in 2012 or a testing Christmas quiz but in the end I figured that I don’t really possess anything like the necessary acumen for any of those. Here instead is something different but no less self-indulgent. Every year at this time my house compiles a CD for distribution among friends that contains recent tracks we particularly like and one or two older songs that relate to gigs we’ve been to or other significant events. People sometimes ask us about the tracks and artists, so here as a public service are some tasting notes, together with a few links.

1. The Agitator: Get Ready. Used to be known as the famous poet Derek Meins who had a nice line in filthy acoustic songs about Sigmund Freud. Has now given up the guitars in favour of urgent agit-prop beats and soulful bellowing.

2. Poly Styrene: I Love Ur Sneakers. RIP. Damn shame. But a brilliant, unapologetically right-on, album to go out on.

3. The Go! Team: Buy Nothing Day. Catchiest track of the year. You can almost hear the bright primary colours, a physical response is compulsory.

4. PJ Harvey: The Glorious Land. From the startlingly great Let England Shake. Went to see her at Ally Pally in July.

5. Real Estate: It’s Real. Deceptively smooth and tuneful indie guitar band from New Jersey. This is from their second album Days, which is so mellow and relaxing and free of dissonance it’s actually quite sinister.

6. Wire: Clay. All these postpunk conceptual outfits keep ploughing on. Didn’t rate the new Gang Of Four album much, but this is well up to par.

7. Half Man Half Biscuit: Excavating Rita. This may be the most commercial sounding track they’ve ever done, ironic given the subject matter. From the splendid 90 Bisodol (Crimond).

8. Joan As Police Woman: The Magic. Terribly awkward alias for Joan Wasser, who was Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend you know. This rather slinky track from the album The Deep Field.

9. Blancmange: The Western. Yes, even Blancmange have a new album out. This is pleasingly similar to Living On The Ceiling. Let’s party like it’s 1982.

10. Eliza Newman: Eyjafjallajökull. Jolly ditty celebrating the holiday-complicating Icelandic volcano.

11. Zoey Van Goey: You Told The Drunks I Knew Karate. I know nothing about this. But I do like the title…right, just looked them up. They’re from Glasgow.

12. Robyn Hitchcock: Dismal City. From the stopgap album Tromsø, Kaptein, which is actually a much better collection than either of his last two official releases. Saw him doing Captain Beefheart in June. Here he sounds more like The Kinks.

13. The Low Anthem: Boeing 737. This lot are ironically named, I’m guessing, as most of the tracks on their Smart Flesh album are so quiet they make the Cowboy Junkies sound like Motorhead. This one’s nicely bombastic though.

14. Anna Calvi: Blackout. My single of the year, I think. Sweeping, lush, widescreen, those sort of adjectives.

15. C.W.Stoneking: Don’t Go Dancin’ Down The Darktown Strutter’s Ball. Seen him three times this year. He does an enthralling rambly surreal intro to this when he does it live, involving a Hoodoo doctor and a prophesy that he’ll die in an eight sided room.

16. The Decemberists: This Is Why We Fight. From the best REM album in twenty years.

17. Alex Turner: Piledriver Waltz: From the soundtrack of the quirky, self-conscious, but still very likeable Submarine. Later re-done by The Arctic Monkeys but I prefer this one. Just looked him up as well, turns out we have the same birthday.

18. Magazine: A Song From Under The Floorboards. Should have been one from their new album really,  but none of the new songs are a patch on this. Saw them live in November.

19. Bonus track. My current favourite songwriter doing a cover, karaoke style.

If you’re interested I think most of these should be on Spotify, or you can contact me for a CD. And, er, Merry Christmas.