Photo Credit: Andres Aguilar
As 2011 fades quietly into winter, music’s passionate flirtation with all things cinematic is threatening to turn into a full-scale love affair. Maybe even ‘The One’. At the very least, they don’t look like getting out of bed any time soon. Alongside the great and good composing specifically for soundtracks – think Alex Turner and ‘Submarine’, or Karen O and ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ – certain artists have looked to cinema’s past for inspiration and a specific feeling. Think Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi’s epic ‘Rome’. Anna Calvi too, citing the influence both Ennio Morricone and Wong Kar-Wai have had on her work.
It’s nuggets like that made her inclusion on nearly all of this year’s buzz lists – most notably the BBC’s – all the more puzzling. That she’s perhaps the most talented was never in doubt, but one wondered whether her quirkiness and originality were too niche to be truly successful. While Florence covered a dance classic, Calvi opted for Elvis and Edith Piaf. But it’s now September, Calvi is still touring, still smiling, and judging by the eager sense of anticipation at KGB, has garnered a loyal following of proper music fans.
Looking elegant yet lascivious, and sporting fierce red lipstick with her trademark, slicked-back bun, she’s every inch the modern femme fatale – none of that forced, plastic, faux-sexiness that Jessie J and Ke$ha ram down people’s throats. From the moment she starts to tickle her frets, it’s clear that she’s in control and means business. Instrumental ‘Rider To The Sea’ bleeds into ‘No More Words’, by which point everyone is captivated. Touring with just a couple of hired hands – drummer Daniel Maiden Wood and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz – strips away the superfluous and leaves the spotlight to her Telecaster, which is clear, bright, and sounds magnificent.
As does her voice, of course, soaring through ‘Suzanne & I’ and a stronger, more powerful ‘Blackout’. This is pop with a sophisticated, dark heart, and what’s striking at times is the contrast between the passion in her voice, and the clinical precision of her playing. Not a note is wasted or misplaced, parsimony not commonly found among virtuosos. ‘The Devil’ begins at a whisper before revealing her inner Siren, the crescendo of crashing drums and cymbals a neat metaphor for resistance being smashed on the rocks. There are no whoops or cat calls - or bane of modern gigs, camera phones in the air – just an awed, hushed silence followed by rapturous applause. ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ brings the evening to a spectacular close, at times coming to a standstill before ramping up the dramatics and testing those pipes to the full.
It’s easy to understand the demographic present: people who see through the hype and smokescreens so prevalent these days, and appreciate talent and stagecraft. Calvi has both by the bucketload. Never a belter, even at full throttle her rich, warm voice sustains itself beautifully, never straining. It’s a classy, stately performance, where the pace never lets up and every flourish and lull is perfectly timed. Behind such steely intensity and rhythm, even that quirkiness – first single ‘Jezebel’ as an encore, the Piaf cover – seems perfectly natural. Why wouldn’t she do the unexpected? If you’re looking for a soundtrack free of the usual clichés, Calvi’s currently your girl.