Thursday night, up-and-coming London singer-songwriter Anna Calvi performed a soaring eight-song set on the roof of SPIN's Manhattan HQ as part of the SPINhouse L!VE concert series, presented by Lacoste L!VE, and complimentary beverages provided by Reyka Vodka.
Her debut album, Anna Calvi, is one of the year's strongest - full of brooding emotion and sexy swagger. The LP, produced by Rob Ellis of PJ Harvey fame, is nominated for the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Prize, and has won Calvi many fans, including Brian Eno and Nick Cave, who invited her on tour.
Her 45-minute SPINhouse set brought much of the album's drama to life.
Calvi's musical intensity was heightened by her somewhat severe stage look of pinned back blonde hair, blood-red lipstick, and night-black eye shadow. A fervent guitar player, she swung her Fender Telecaster from side to side and fingered reverb-drenched riffs that nodded to flamenco, surf-rock, and orchestral ballads suggestive of Scott Walker.
Her sound was dark yet elegant, bolstered by a spot-on drummer, and a third bandmember who rotated between guitar, xylophone, harmonium, and percussion, including a cymbal cut to resemble a curly-Q.
Calvi's lyrics often invoke a melodramatic, yearning love. On "No More Words" she begged to be held tightly, first in a whisper backed only by spare guitar chords, then with a desperate plea as the band rocked with force. On "First We Kiss" she sang: "Heart beat against the wardrobe / Against the window / The love we had between us tonight is here." On "Desire" she wailed, "It's the devil in me!"
The music's raw emotion was bolstered by Calvi's operatic vocal control. On "Blackout" her voice was a lead instrument, cooing the melody over a strong backbeat. Her singing style is theatrical and finely-tuned; Calvi says she taught herself to sing a few years ago by listening to her heroes, Nina Simone and Edith Piaf. (She has recorded a howling version of Piaf's "Jezebel.")
SPIN editorial director Charles Aaron named Calvi one of the best new artists of 2011, saying: "She's a beast, straight up. Usually I'd only use that terminology about, say, a basketball playerwho's ferociously and/or effortlessly unstoppable, but Calvi's singingand guitar playing are so cold-slap virtuosic and self-possessed thatit's like the work of a scary new species."
Calvi will be touring Europe this summer and fall, and has plans for U.S. dates near the end of the year.