By Robert Freeman
November 1, 2011
Seriously, you’ve never seen an audience so quiet as when Anna Calvi plucks at her guitar strings. Eyes closed, head up, she looks for all the world like she’s riffing in the desert (and, to be honest, there is a picture of a desert behind her). Considering how quiet she is in between songs and how much she looks like a borrower, Anna Calvi has an impressive ability to open her mouth suddenly and SCARE THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF YOU. Whipping between loud and quiet, the sudden swelling of sultry whispering to a tumescent line of gothic vibrato can be a fairly palpitation-inducing experience. The word ‘rapt’ would be appropriate.
Dealing in the lyrical currency of lust, death, possession (in all in its senses), shuffled in between tracks from her ten song debut are various aptly chosen covers – apt because although they might originally sound markably Edith Piaf or Elvis Presley, in theme and style they also sound so perfectly Anna Calvi. ‘Wolf Like Me’! Of course she covers ‘Wolf Like Me’! The tremolo of her guitar can at times be so menacing, the reverb so powerful that one can feel quite overwhelmed, before she calms down and gets back to crooning sweet nothings over soft finger picks, the aural equivalent of a satisfied cat pawing up and down.
While one wouldn’t be surprised to see her on a BBC4 documentary dislocating her jaw and swallowing an antelope, there is a real tenderness to the music, and a softness that for all her red-lipped alter-ego posturing can still come across like a bare nerve. Comparisons have also been made to Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, Lynch being a fellow purveyor of eerie desert guitar music and ethereal pop balladry. But the effect of watching Anna Calvi is more like Rebekah Del Rio’s show in Club Silencio, switching between unbearable pathos and obvious performance. The alter-ego can sometimes be the easiest way to express the inner self, and one gets the feeling when watching Anna Calvi that the dream is almost more real than the reality.