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Live Review: Anna Calvi, Olympia

19 June 2019 | 2:25 pm | Guido Farnell

"Calvi has matured into a majestic goth with a penchant for high drama."

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It’s a slow start to the evening, with Olympia going it solo on an electric guitar to just a handful of punters. Looking quite the pop star in a spangly, plastic-looking outfit, Olympia still goes all out to impress with a selection of tunes. She has a great voice and maintains a ferocious presence as she pulls surprisingly dark, heavy and quirky accompaniment out of her guitar. “Anna Calvi has a lot of fans,” she assures the crowd, “but tonight it seems they will get here really, really late.” Nonetheless, Olympia warms the crowd and treats us to a fine selection of her work.

The last time we saw Anna Calvi play, she came across as a somewhat shy but talented singer-songwriter who could effortlessly deliver an engaging performance. Somewhere between her second album One Breath and last year's Hunter, Calvi has matured into a majestic goth with a penchant for high drama. Howling ferociously at the audience, Calvi is out for the kill as she works herself into a predatory mood with the title track from Hunter. The range and power of Calvi’s beautiful voice come through loud and strong on Indies Or Paradise. The virtuosity of her guitar-playing is evident in the wild solos that blaze across many of these songs. 

Calvi’s set simmers intensely with restrained passion and desire under the stage's red light sleaze. Swimming Pool takes us for a chill splash at David Hockney’s, and gender identity looms large on other newer songs such as As A Man and Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy. While tracks like Alpha feature Calvi furiously shredding, the mix is bass-heavy and deep. The ESG-esque drums feel basic but they boom and at times the synths seem to complement the range of weird effects on Calvi’s guitar. Although Calvi looks as though she’s having a rockstar moment, she steers away from cliché with a sound that feels fresher. 

Tonight’s show is a straight-up showcase of Hunter. Calvi only dips into three songs from her self-titled debut, dealing versions like you have never heard before of Rider To The Sea, Suzanne & I and I’ll Be Your Man. Winning the hearts of the crowd, Calvi’s performance is as touchingly sincere as it is steeped in over-the-top rockstar histrionics. Covering Suicide’s Ghost Rider for her encore, Calvi offers one last wild ride with a potent sombre political edge as she focuses in on the lyric, “He’s a screamin’ the truth, America is killin’ its youth.” An intense evening with a unique talent.