A cloud of smoke. An air of eager anticipation. A smattering of whoops and cheers from the expectant audience. Anna Calvi appears on stage and calmly releases her virtuosity through a dense fuzz of distortion and reverb, filling this spacious ex-industrial venue right up to its high wooden rafters. From the very beginning, her presence commands the absolute attention of everyone in the room.
Now she tames the beast of her guitar, gently coaxing out two repeated chords and letting her classically trained, operatic voice take centre stage. The tension of her explosive introductory guitar solo has receded into a cool quietness, the contrast made all the more effective by the apparent effortlessness with which she conducts her entire performance. She is joined on stage by two other musicians: one on drum kit, the other on keyboards and various bizarre-looking pieces of percussion. This now sets the scene for the rest of the performance, seamlessly creating waves of feeling, sound and sheer glorious noise.
The most striking element of the show is how Calvi achieves extremes of emotion from calm to triumphant to demoniacal, which blend into each other throughout the show in a way that few musicians can. At one point my notes simply read “QUEER FEMALE ANGER (pauses…) then FURY, BLINDING”. At other times she creates an aura of serenity, softly singing over two delicate repeated chords, but punctuates this with occasional jarring discords to remind us that the tension could rise again at any moment. And the real cherry on the figurative cake is the fact that every aspect of it is a performance, not just the music. Calvi’s body movements are a theatrical spectacle in their own right, and they perfectly convey the emotional extremes of her music to our eyes as well as our ears. The stage lighting is in a sense minimal, using only red and white, but is cleverly manipulated so that it expertly complements the music.
The only hiccup was the non-appearance of local punk trio Blóm, who apparently were supposed to be the support act. However it would be a shame to let this detract from an otherwise perfect gig – and anyway, if a punk band show up on time are they really punks?
This must be one of the most staggeringly good shows I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. When Anna Calvi returns to Newcastle, I’m sure to be first in line for a ticket.