Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Anna Calvi and Gems at The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn
Frank YangI didn’t go to New York this past weekend expressly to see Anna Calvi; although she was only playing a handful of North American dates following the release of her second album One Breath last month, I had no doubt she’d be back for a full and proper tour before too long and air travel wouldn’t be necessary to see her play. I was planning to go to New York anyways, however, and did I schedule said trip to intersect with her show at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg? Maaaaaybe.
Opening up were Washington DC’s Gems, a co-ed duo who play soulful, electro-pop that’s getting a moderate amount of buzz in the same way that many other co-ed duos who play soulful, electro-pop are. Which is not to say they weren’t alright, but you couldn’t help feel like they were just one of the contestants in the Hunger Games of co-ed duos who play soulful electro-pop and whether they’d come out on top or be an also-ran wasn’t clear. Working in their favour was a sound and show that was well-polished and songs that were solidly-crafted if not outstanding on one listen, and against them were the fact that, well, blending smoky vocals, echoey guitar lines, and canned beats danceable enough for the band to groove and the audience to sway isn’t especially fresh. But even so, I give them pretty good odds. Their debut EP Medusa came out this week.
As they were setting up the stage for Anna Calvi’s set, I thought that someone had accidentally her mic stand out of position. With the boom set low and almost perpendicular to the stand, surely it was far too low for Calvi to sing into. What I had forgotten – or perhaps didn’t notice when I finally saw her live last in December 2011 – is that Calvi is absolutely tiny in stature, even in stilettos, and her Telecaster – hardly the largest electric guitar out there – looked gigantic on her. But all presumptions of petiteness were rendered irrelevant from the moment she struck said guitar, and opened her mouth to said mic.
Opening with “Suzanne & I” off her 2011 self-titled debut – one of my favourites of the year and still in steady rotation – Calvi’s preternatural guitar and vocal abilities were well on display; the former viscerally virtuostic, the latter enormously emotive, and both massive is scale. Her band was expanded to include a keyboardist alongside her long-term multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz as well as new drummer, replacing the just-departed Daniel Maiden-Wood, but functioned like a well-oiled machine in supporting Calvi and allowing her to do her thing.
With the front half of the show dominated on the relatively more subdued and atmospheric One Breath, the emphasis was more on Calvi’s voice, as powerful as her operatic training would allow but also soft and seductive when called to be, even when she was more focused on tuning her guitar than send shivers down the audience’s collective backs, shivers ensued. The guitar chops were used judiciously – though always for killing blows – but by the time they reached “I’ll Be Your Man”, the Tele-triggered sonic explosions were becoming more frequent and intense and when she pulled out a Gretsch Sparkle Jet for “Carry Me Over”, feedback and Bigsby abuse were added to her arsenal of attack. Appropriately, the set hit its crescendo with “Desire” and was sustained with Calvi in full guitar hero mode through main set closer, “Love Won’t Be Leaving”. After that breathtaking showing, expecting an encore seemed unreasonable but she was coaxed out for the the smouldering “Bleed Into Me” and then her customary closer, a cover of Edith Piaf’s “Jezebel”, before leaving for good.
So no, I didn’t fly to another country just to see Anna Calvi play, but I certainly would have. And I still have her eventual Toronto show next year to look forward to.
Photos: Anna Calvi, Gems @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg – November 11, 2013
MP3: Anna Calvi – “The Wall”
MP3: Anna Calvi – “Blackout”
MP3: Anna Calvi – “Jezebel”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Wolf Like Me”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Suzanne & I”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Blackout”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Desire”
Video: Gems – “Pegasus”
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