Anna Calvi at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
David Byrne, director of this year’s Meltdown – held at Southbank Centre – invites singer-songwriter Anna Calvi and the support of a 12-piece choir to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Saturday night. Lauded as a guitar virtuoso or what Brian Eno claims is “the biggest thing since Patti Smith”, Calvi regrettably falls a bit short of the hype.
With the aid of a smoke machine to recreate moody, atmospheric conditions, members of the choir march past the audience and assemble themselves onstage whilst carrying a forlorn tune. This is the only act of showmanship the entire night. Attired in her usual high-waisted trousers and white blouse, Calvi has as much stage presence as a paper bag, and not once does she engage or acknowledge the audience. She does, however, feign a half-smile when someone adoringly yells: “You were great tonight, Anna!”
Most of the musical prowess she displays this evening is delivered shortly after the opening, via the instrumental piece Rider of the Sea. Based on the performance, it would appear that her music does not encompass much range, as many of the songs sound quite similar, marked by unimpressive guitar riffs and extremely average vocals. The end of the show brings the effectiveness of the choir into question; although the ensemble is onstage throughout the duration of the performance, their talents are used sparingly.
The crowd goes abuzz when Byrne himself joins Calvi onstage for their duet, Strange Weather, the title track of her latest EP. Without a doubt, the best song of the evening is Suzanne and I, perhaps the only instance in which Calvi achieves her aim of transporting listeners to another time and place. The musician also performs previously recorded covers, such as Jezebel (in English) and TV on the Radio’s Wolf Like Me. Calvi strips the latter of all its nuances and, essentially, everything that makes the song fun to listen to. Instead, as is the propensity of so many female musicians today, she slows down the tempo and unambiguously sexualises it, as if the show is lacking in this one-dimensional tone.
Nevertheless, Calvi is enthusiastically received by the better part of a noticeably older crowd, garnering a partial standing ovation; others would agree that her style is probably the calibre of music heard in a Tarantino film at best.
Photos: Matthew Pull
For further information about Anna Calvi and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Strange Weather here: