The first thing one notices about Anna Calvi is her lips. The utmost focal point of her very demeanour, they are voluptuous, seductive and an alarming shade of red. She nonchalantly skulks to the centre of the stage with her sunburst Telecaster and complete silence falls upon even the drunkest in the audience. With full control of the venue, she opens with ‘Rider To The Sea’, a mysterious three-minute guitar solo that uses almost everything the guitar can offer. Already enticed, Calvi segues into ‘No More Words’ and her inviting voice is revealed from behind those lips, through the incessant cries of “Oh, my love”. With what was perhaps the sexiest introduction to a concert ever, we were all smitten, unable to look at anything apart from her.
It may sound like I’m just ranting on about how much I love Anna Calvi, but this really was a concert that will stand out as one of my favourites, including seeing Lou Reed, Morrissey and Neil Young. Set in the unconventional venue of Manchester Cathedral, this provided wonderfully bizarre acoustics and a beautiful surrounding, sending Calvi’s voice perpetually echoing throughout and giving an almost ethereal quality to the whole concert.
The set was the whole of Calvi’s eponymous album, plus the released cover of Edith Piaf’s ‘Jezebel’ for the encore; a great, but predictable choice. The performance would have been given a whole other dimension if some demos or new songs were played. What would have intensified this more so would be if Calvi had connected with the audience at any point, other than the odd ‘Thank you’. As much as we loved her music and her sheer character, something was missing and left feeling unanswered. Although this is the very heart of Calvi’s enigmatic persona, the concert would have been considerably enhanced had there been just a modicum of variation to her usual performance.
Other highlights of the concert were the successful singles ‘Desire’ and ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’; guaranteed crowd-pleasers. What became obvious is just how underrated the other members of Calvi’s band are. Multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz changed from playing the accordion to an odd combination of cymbals within a few seconds, and drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood provided excellent backing vocals to Calvi’s virtuosic voice and guitar-playing. One might argue that the two accompanying members of Calvi’s band are not given enough credit, but at the end of the day, Calvi really is the true leader and spectacle of the band.
For someone so young, I have been to a lot of gigs. From legendary, world-famous names to secondary school’s ‘Battle of the bands’ in dingy basement clubs with little air. Not once have I ever really enjoyed the support act. They have always served as a time-killer; a group to listen to that everyone knows will never make it, while the real act is backstage snorting an unholy amount of painkillers. However, this support act completely astonished me. Halloween, Alaska have been on the go since 2004 and have released a substantial amount of albums with little recognition. Definitely an act to look out for, I would recommend listening to ‘Tables’ to get a glimpse of their alt-pop sound, their true skills as musicians and the fact that they are simply enjoyable to listen to.
Everything about Anna Calvi screams passion. From her lips to the red lighting, but her boyish gait and immense control of the guitar render it un-cliché and completely her own. This performance as a whole illustrated this to a tee, in the wonderfully underrated venue of Manchester Cathedral. The playing was perfect; the set-list was expected, but there is no denying that it was a clear-cut, superb selection of songs; the connection with the audience could have been better, although it might have detracted from Calvi’s disposition; the support were surprisingly listenable, great even. This really was a marvellous gig and I couldn’t have asked for much more to improve it, except perhaps a few more surprises on Calvi’s part.