Albert Hall, Manchester, 6/2/2014
published: 23 /
Mary O'Meara watches Anna Calvi play an intense but enthralling set in a hypnotic show at the Albert Hall in Manchester
Tonight the streets of Manchester are drenched with glistening rain drops, and along with the shimmer of street lights our path seems paved with gold. There’s that kind of feeling you’re gliding rather than walking and that’s a very fitting feeling with which to enter the newly renovated Albert Halls, a cavernous church complex that’s thankfully been salvaged and transformed into a performance space rather than abandoned like so many derelict and lonely inner city buildings.
This shimmery, flickering feeling extends like a trail leading to the stage where it will explode into shards of pure white light revealing the strikingly elegant figure of Anna Calvi. Like many women, I expect, I’m impressed by her standing before us in what look like six inch stilettos and maintaining such poise and control throughout her performance. And, of course, she wasn’t just standing there – she was wielding various guitars around like they were instruments of both torture and comfort. Sometimes the guitar snapped like a wild animal, sometimes she rocked with it, cradled it, like she was lulling a baby to sleep.
Opening track 'Suzanne and Me' is one of my favourites. It’s the way that guitar uncoils and slithers through the belly of the song, not orderly, not polished, just instinctive and enrapturing. I’m always especially pleased when an artist starts with a track I particularly love. It’s like some sort of telepathic affirmation that you’re supposed to be here. And so glad I was.
Perhaps it was because of her shoes, or maybe it’s just the way she prefers to perform but part of me kept half expecting or hoping that Anna would leap up on a speaker or take a manic run towards the stained glass windows. Maybe that’s because she frequently gave me the impression of being a wild cat, a leopard or tiger ready to pounce, roar or run. The roar she did marvellously. Roar doesn’t do her justice. She doesn’t just open her mouth and roar. She opens her mouth and the sound of her soul just bursts out, at times gloriously amplified, at others, gentle as the most intimate of whispers.
On hindsight, maybe her stillness increased her intensity. Stillness can do that, and build like a ticking time bomb until the artist suddenly unleashes the beast, either vocally or via her gutsy guitar. The set list mixes material from her first and current album along with two astonishing covers. Bruce Springsteen’s 'Fire' is delivered with Anna’s characteristic precision and control, managing to mingle a sense of sizzling heat and cold denial, with fire clearly winning out in the end. The other cover, 'Jezebel', which was Calvi’s first release, she has stamped as her own. It tears through the venue like a life-threatening cyclone, demented, desirous, determined to blast through every atom of trapped emotion huddling in these halls tonight.
Miss Calvi speaks very few words whilst on stage, but quite honestly there is no need for trivial banter considering she’s bared her entire soul and transported her audience to places they probably never expected to go. After the storm, silence, like the pavements, is golden. Anna Calvi knows the power of this, just as she knows the power of light and the medicine of music to slash through a curtain of darkness.
Photos by Melanie Smith