Photos by Josh Braybrook
Today's political climate only highlights how important artists like Anna Calvi are.
When Anna Calvi busted out the one-two punch of ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ and ‘Alpha’ to close the main part of her Melbourne set, it was a truly triumphant moment. Not only because the songs are so utterly powerful, but even more so because of the direct correlation they had to the events that transpired hours earlier.
Events that might sound minuscule because they are such a regular occurrence on a night out in the city – of overly and overtly aggressive men, of uncomfortable women, of the way the toxicity that so often finds itself alongside masculinity can quickly spread amongst a group. It’s so familiar, it starkly highlights why artists like Calvi are so very important.
The album most heavily featured throughout the night, Hunter, lends itself perfectly to the live setting. Focusing on gender, and not letting it define or restrain you, this was a night that we would feel liberated and freed – a far cry from what was happening outside the bandroom doors.
First up though, was Olympia. Cutting a striking figure onstage, it was just her and her electric guitar – though this combination proved more than enough to capture the attention of the slowly building crowd. Her voice was wonderous, floating throughout the room, so captivating it was almost unnoticeable that she cut a stark figure on the Corner Hotel stage. It was a pleasant introduction for the sheer force that was about to be unleashed.
Calvi’s set was everything you could possibly want and more. Drenched in a wash of red lights, she prowled around the stage, wrapping the crowd in her spell within seconds. Her vocal, while impressive on record, is a soul-shaking power live. Equal parts thunderous and controlled, her incredible range slips between an operatic, almost primal roar and a delicate whisper with ease. It isn’t often you get to witness a Corner crowd stunned into silence.
If her voice is the anchor of her performance, her virtuosity on the guitar is the tornado that swirls around it. Relying less on flashy playing and more on raw emotion and feeling, Calvi plays with a sense of abandon that is rarely seen. But within all the drama and indulgence, her technique is masterfully controlled – bending genres and breaking stereotypes, every solo bigger than the last. There’s a magic in watching a performance that, as a whole, is so absolutely precisely controlled, but inside is complete and utter chaos.
So locked into her set, Calvi barely uttered a word to the audience or even glances up in their direction, but somewhere in the middle of her set she finally takes in the room, as if seeing the crowd for the first time, and the look of awe and raw emotion that briefly crosses her face is magical.
The night is an absolute masterclass in using light and shade. In how you can show just as much power in restraint as you can with a face-melting, shreddy guitar solo – and the way in which both are most impactful because of the existence of the other. Through her work, her lyrics, and her performance, there is also the battle between soft femininity and hard-edged masculinity, of sexual fluidity and androgyny, and how traits from all sides can co-exist in harmony.
As the final notes of ‘Alpha’ ring out, Calvi finally lets herself bask in the aura she has created. Arms spread wide, head tilted back, she lets it all soak in. Anna Calvi is an artist in absolute control of her craft – commanding, powerful, elegant, and raw – and we have been truly blessed to bear witness to such a performer.