Anna Calvi mesmerises and riffs like Hendrix

Anna Calvi works her magic on her Fender
Anna Calvi works her magic on her Fender

MUSIC REVIEW: Anna Calvi @ Empire Music Hall, Belfast

Listening to Anna Calvi play live is to be awed and hypnotised by an ethereal voice, flamenco-meets-Hendrix guitar playing and otherworldly beauty - Calvi looks feline and fierce, with the slightest whiff of danger about her and piercing blue eyes. But this is an artist with the musical kudos to match the pulchritude and a serious talent on electric guitar which she plays with breathtaking mastery. A lover of reverb, she strums and works her instrument and allows it to make sounds few anticipated the guitar could make; the influence of Spanish classical guitar is there and in some places her instrument seems to become like an extension of her very body - like Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock; here the guitar chords ripple and vibrate exactly as she wants them to.

This is the woman who counts Brian Eno as a fan; he has called her ‘the best thing since Patti Smith’ and sang backing lyrics on perhaps her best-known track Desire, which speaks of the devil leading her hand to the fire and which she delivered in Belfast to an enraptured audience.

The set list moved through some of the standout moments on her self-titled and Mercury and BRIT Award nominated debut album to her follow-up One Breath - a mix of instrumental reveries, intense lyrics and rousing choruses - Calvi’s is a potent mix of alt-guitar, rock and entrancing vocal feats. Staring intensely at the audience while she works her guitar voodoo, she sings in a voice that quivers with emotion, moving between quiet moments of reflection to full-throttle delivery of poetic lyrics about desire, memory, despair and sex.

The Empire was packed for this her second Belfast gig and Calvi mesmerised, adding Suzanne & I and I’ll Be Your Man from her first album, new tracks Eliza, Love of My Life and Piece by Piece (all storming potential hits) and an incredible reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s Fire. On stage Calvi is a transfixing seductress, a formidable guitarist - she played so intensely it wouldn’t have been surprising if smoke had begun emanating from the strings, and a spine-tinglingly unique singer. Unquestionably, Anna Calvi is an artist to be very excited about.