Anna Calvi, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

3.00

 

Anna Calvi has so many diverse influences (she counts Hendrix, flamenco music and Captain Beefheart among them) but the way she combines them sounds totally new.

Her music is unconstrained and a bit wild.

With a Mercury Prize nomination and a European Border Breakers Award (for new artists achieving pan-European acclaim) already under her belt, not to mention a debut album (called Anna Calvi) which reached near universal critical acclaim, it seems that even though it's hard to pin her down to one genre or consistent style, she has figured out a formula for success.

In interviews, she mentions that her parents did not push her to learn to play any instruments, so there were no expectations, she was free to try things out. You can hear this in her music – it has the playfulness and daring of someone who feels they have nothing to lose.

In high stilettos, slicked-back hair, cropped trousers and a pillar-box red, sequined jumper with lipstick to match, she looks like a matador, but she doesn't move much. She doesn't speak much either, preferring to segue between songs by agitating her Fender Telecaster into messy chord combinations.

When she does speak, it's with a subdued, child-like London accent, a contrast to her powerful singing voice, which shifts between deep howls and light, ethereal whispers. Her lyrics are full of lust and desperation, hinting at unseen dangers. The overall impact is raw and unsettling – in a good way.

Calvi's music is full of unexpected shifts in tone. In "Morning Light", crescendos and silences fall in waves, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Surrender" is infused with tension and longing with its fluctuating volume and sudden pauses. "Jezebel", Calvi's debut single, has a Nick Cave quality, the stage is soaked in red light, the effect is oppressive and disquieting.

In "Suzanne and I", a compelling drumbeat is visually picked out by Calvi's twitching guitar, which she shakes as though she's squeezing out the last drops of sound, sometimes plucking it like a harp, at other times massaging the strings with her idiosyncratic circular strumming.

Sometimes it doesn't quite work – when her disquieting strumming rises to a tense throb but then descends into deconstructed noise. It's very exciting, though, to see an artist confidently standing on the brink of something big, sharing, without cynicism, her dark and passionate experiments in sound.

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