St Luke’s, Glasgow, September 30
It had been a rather frantic dash along the Scottish Central Belt to be in time for this gig. When we arrived the nice people on the door told us there was about nine minutes until our heroine was due on stage. This turned out to be possibly the longest nine minutes ever, but when the warm-up DJ was giving the audience Janelle Monae, the Ohio Players and Kenrick Lamar, then who’s complaining?
Brilliant, if a little incongruous, unless we want to get into a discussion about the roots of r’n’b music. See, as Anna Calvi comes on solo and coaxes southern blues out of the swamps and bayou, it’s clear that her roots and inspirations show her to be so much more than just the vague notion of female-singer songwriters. Her live performance foils turn out to be just two, a drummer cum electronics expert and a multi-instrumentalist. Anna Calvi can pull guitar poses with the best of them, and when she seems to meet my eye (the venue is just small enough that it is possible for the whites of her eyes to be seen), it’s as if she manages to imply a wink without even blinking. Maybe it’s the headliner’s privilege, but she has all so completely in the palm of her hand that when she goes ‘shhh’ it really goes quiet. Never have the washing machines in the bars been so glared at.
Of course, the beguiling stage present wouldn’t mean a thing if she didn’t have the songs to go with it. As I’ve said before, there’s no question that Hunter, her most recent album, is the finest release of her career so far. The songs are fantastic, and whether it’s the menace of ‘Indies Or Paradise’ or the gentle title track or the urgency of ‘As A Man’, there is so much on offer here for folks.
For the encore she gives us a delightfully understated ‘Suzanne and I’ from her self-titled debut and finally, her take on Suicide’s ‘Ghostrider.’ She originally covered this on her 2014 EP Strange Weather, and in her hands it starts off in the wasteland of 1970s New York no-wave electronics and makes its way southwards to those bayou and swamps of time immemorial. That is how to tackle a cover version, folks.
At St. Luke’s customers are just around the corner from the legendary Barrowlands Ballroom. As Ms. Calvi notches up another hit album, and her best reviews yet, the thought occurs that selling out that venue the next time is completely within the bounds of possibility. She’s doing this all on her own terms, of course.
Here’s hoping that this is one hunter that never gets captured by the game.
Hunter is out now on Domino.