Anna Calvi @ Town Hall, 4th October 2018

With three albums of atmospheric leftfield pop to her name, London’s Anna Calvi’s most recent effort ‘Hunter’ sees her up the ante with her most powerful and dramatic yet, and Birmingham’s Town Hall is the perfect backdrop for her performance tonight.  The contrasting grand architecture behind the stage and modern refurbished sheen giving the show the feel of a theatre performance rather than your average rock gig.

Calvi’s music also has this same dynamic quality, where the dark and the delicate interconnect throughout the intense performance, and the room falls silent as the crowd await her arrival following the intro tape. When she does take to the stage alone, she begins with the instrumental ‘Rider To The Sea’, a dramatic guitar solo with a sharp western feel that sets the tone for the evening, continuing with the quiet and fragile ‘Away’ as Anna’s siren-like voice builds up before diminishing to a whisper. ‘Indies Or Paradise’ on the other hand is a strong, chugging rock track that confirms that those comparisons to PJ Harvey aren’t too far off the mark and a blistering Prince-esque guitar solo stuns the audience as the song comes to a climax.

Lyrically, there are a number of songs tonight focusing on challenging gender stereotypes, and perhaps ‘As A Man’ and ‘Hunter’ are the first real examples of Calvi not just blurring the boundaries but accessing the entire spectrum of masculinity and femininity, themes which continue with recent single ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’. As well as Anna’s impressive guitar and vocal performance here, special mention has to go to multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz who tackles keyboards, guitars and percussion together, and along with the powerful drumming of Alex Thomas they make for quite a formidable band, evidenced on ‘I’ll Be Your Man’ and the dark, brooding ‘Alpha’ which ends with Anna kneeling down on the stage, hunched over her guitar.

Again putting the set’s dynamics to good use, the quiet ‘No More Words’ leads into the dramatic ‘Swimming Pool’ and ‘Wish’, and before the main set closes with the poppier ‘Desire’, Calvi speaks directly to the crowd for the first and only time to say thanks and to introduce the band. The audience may be a little sparse tonight but they’re certainly vocal and cheer loudly for an encore, which comes in the shape of old favourite ‘Suzanne And I’ along with a cover of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’. It’s a versatile and accomplished performance from Anna Calvi that reinforces her reputation as a groundbreaking artist, and combined with the beautiful setting it makes for a wonderful experience.

As a footnote, it’s worth pointing out that in lieu of a supporting lineup on this tour, Anna has instead hand-picked a cast of guests to DJ before the show, and in Birmingham these are PINS drummer Sophie Galpin and Kaila Whyte of local punks Youth Man. Between them they curate a playlist of exclusively female-fronted artists ranging from The Breeders to The Big Moon and anything inbetween. It’s a nice idea but with the small audience and low engagement levels, it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity instead of inviting like-minded artists to perform live, perhaps with the DJ sets on the side. Still, that’s certainly not a gripe and didn’t detract from a brilliant evening.

Reviewer: Ian Paget
Photographer: Ian Dunn

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