Islington Assembly Hall, London
8th October 2013
The day after the release of her second album, One Breath, Anna Calvi played a show at Islington Assembly Hall. Willow Colios went to check it out for Louder Than War.
A 1930’s building, reopened in 2010, Islington Assembly Hall is an imposing yet still intimate venue. The acoustics are also perfect for the incredible vocal stylings of Anna Calvi and precise multi instrumentalism of her band.
From the opening bars of Suzanne and I the audience is bathed in sound and know they are in for a bit of a treat. There are so many different textures to the sound with drums, additional percussion, harmonium and more instruments in the bands sonic arsenal. And it gets loud in places but not so loud as to blow you away or leave ringing in the ears. There’s a controlled power that pulls you in, chews you up a bit then spits you out again.
Anna plays with the quiet and loud dynamic and nowhere better than on I’ll Be Your Man, where the main riff gives the song momentum and some desert blues guitar lines prickle the senses. New songs Suddenly and Eliza, the lead singles off the new LP, have great hooks and slot into the set well alongside well established tracks such as Desire and Blackout. The haunting fade in backing vocals of Cry, with Mally Harpaz gentle but punchy vibraphone and bursts of abrasive slide guitar from Anna herself make for a great cocktail of sounds, and all so clear and audible in the mix. It’s a sumptuous feast which most rock bands in venues with stickier floors (tonight we are standing on a sprung ballroom floor) and muddier sound can’t muster.
There’s a classical musician’s precision about Anna Calvi’s guitar playing but this doesn’t diminish the visceral power of it. It actually helps to translate the quality of her recorded tracks but with added bite. And there is a real sense that although she doesn’t say too much to the audience that this is a big occasion, the first gig since the album’s release, and that to get such a raputurous reception gives Anna and the whole band a big lift ahead of a long tour to come.
On The Devil every instrument seems to emit an aching sadness, the guitar almost sounding like it is being plucked like a harp in places. And the guitar freakout in the middle of Love Won’t Be Leaving lifts the brooding closer from the first album towards the apocalyptic. With a band of four gifted musicians they really take the opportunity to improvise and play off each other, taking things beyond just a faithful performances of what’s on the records.
There’s an inevitable encore after some substantial howling and foot stomping on the aforementioned sprung dance floor. After a slower and subtler Bleed Into Me an exciting finished is assured with with a cover of Edith Piaf’s Jezebel. Daniel Maiden-Wood’s huge drums drive things with an accompanying guitar riff sounding like galloping horses. This combined with more dynamic and resonant vocals from Anna, this time in French, make a perfect end to the show.
The new Anna Calvi album One Breath is out now on Domino
The tour continues across Europe including London’s Troxy on Feb 8th 2014