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Photo by Simeon Johnson


The Factory Theatre, June 16

Look up scorched earth in the dictionary and if there isn’t a picture of the stunned-and-yet-thrilled faces of The Factory audience from this night, get a new dictionary. Holy Mary mother of god, that was … something else.

Fiery in delivery – howled and hurled at us; overwhelming in its impact – physical recoil followed by an eager leaning hard into it again; devastating in its affect – emotions roiled, bodies tingling, senses alive.

This was an intense experience which mingled hurt and sex and power and something even more primal. It lived in the spirit rather than the shadow of Howlin’ Wolf, projecting that energy and concentration of feeling in a body a third the size.

There was Anna Calvi’s head thrown back and invocations cast beyond the ceiling, past that roof, or as she dropped to her knees and contorted her voice as much as her body, driving down through the floorboards.

There was her guitar – a slash of non-colour against the red and black of her outfit – seeming to twist in her hands or, when she turned to slide, bend beneath her fingers. On the floor under assault or raised in triumph, pointed at us accusingly or metaphorically flicking its hips, it made the drums, percussion and synths of her two-person band shadow players.

There was, in her forays to the stage edge to look into and through the people standing near, a control equal parts predatory intruder and impervious dominator. The complete opposite of the tentative artist we saw on her first trip here, or even the incongruously statuesque figure she presented on the subsequent tour.

Photo by Simeon Johnson

It’s no small thing to note that where once she would have had her hair pulled back severely, her face an icy front to the world, now it hung loose and curled around and over her face, the mouth ripping through the curtain of hair. Fear nothing. Take everything.

Along the way this show confirmed for anyone who hadn’t paid attention before, that Calvi is a superb guitarist - someone able to bring the crying/wrenching style that Hubert Sumlin offered Wolf, while adding the intricacies and kick of a Tom Morello, and then, at the short post-climax reconnection of an encore, bringing some of Blixa Bargeld’s maniac in a maelstrom.

As someone who generally speaking can take or leave a long solo, and who definitely would be mentally checking out after the third or fourth example in the same night, I was wholly engrossed in each reshaping and deconstruction.

Calvi could grind down and then explode out of the ashes; she could make swing and sidle up; she could drive over and flatten. She could, and she did, do whatever she bloody well liked. And we were very cool with this.

This was something else.

Anna Calvi plays The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, tonight, June 18.

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