In the crumbling theatre that is about to put on its own version of Dracula, Anna Calvi found the perfect space to reveal her latest collection of doomed gothic romance.
The 2011 Mercury nominee’s first concert before a second album next month suffered from a slightly standoffish, here’s-another-new-one, atmosphere, but first impressions suggested there is much to look forward to. Nothing has changed radically – she still looks extraordinary, hair lacquered down solidly, one entire lipstick used per show, heels that could kill a man, and she still both plays guitar and sings with a range matched only by the mountains on her dramatic backdrop.
What she has more of now is subtlety. The wind tunnel howl of her voice at its most fearsome benefited from the anticipation induced by its more frequent absence. A massive squall of guitar noise in Cry stopped as suddenly as it started. Bleed Into Me was quiet and still throughout and absolutely lovely.
An unusual band line-up – harmonium, xylophone, drums and keyboards – left plenty of space for her versatile guitar work. She bashed the strings with a stick during Tristan, the catchiest new one, and turned sideways for a savage solo during Love Won’t be Leaving.
Though she isn’t one for chitchat or explaining her methods, plenty of unfamiliar material was immediately likeable. With its nodding rhythm and wordless chorus made for singing along, Suddenly sounded like a new favourite. Piece by Piece was more of a departure, mainly voice and jerking rhythm, but worked beautifully.
Though in the past she may have endured obvious comparisons to Jeff Buckley’s guitar playing or PJ Harvey’s intensity (she lost out on the Mercury to Harvey), she looked increasingly her own woman this evening. There was more light in the darkness, but still plenty of bite.
Oct 8, Islington Assembly Hall, N1 (020 7527 8900, assemblyhall.ticketabc.com); Feb 8 2014, Troxy, E1 (020 7790 9000, troxy.co.uk)