This year’s EIF contemporary music programme features a number of powerful female voices, with the imperious Anna Calvi following hot on the heels of Kate Tempest and Neneh Cherry. The London-based singer/guitarist is a late bloomer, but having tapped into her extraordinary voice she has carved her place in the pop leftfield as a purveyor of dramatic rock torch songs, delivered on this occasion against a moody electronic backdrop and a stage bathed in blood red lighting.
Flanked by a drummer and keyboard player, the black-clad Calvi is an enigmatic presence but a masterful guitarist, who communicates with the crowd through her visceral but eloquent playing, drawing whoops of appreciation for her potent manoeuvres, whether for the precision-controlled suggestive strut of ‘As A Manor’, or for the suitably unfettered ‘Desire’.
Her voice is an intoxicating instrument, but her seductive alto is now complemented by a heady soprano range on newer tracks such as ‘Indies or Paradise’. She flaunts her siren credentials on the ravishing ‘Swimming Pool’, and the rocking melodrama of ‘Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy’ features some spectacular, soaring vocals. Dynamics are all to Calvi – her craft is in the contrasts. The brooding ‘Wish’ arrives like a storm about to break, before she unleashes a beast of a wail, retreats to a whisper and then surges back with a freakout guitar solo.
But she can also make judicious choices as an interpreter of other artists’ material, whipping up a torrid rendition of Frankie Laine’s ‘Jezebel’ with just dramatic voice and galloping guitar, and creating a pulsating, powerful take on Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ with the addition of distorted, screeching guitar. Calvi is a woman of few words, but there is invincibility in her posture as she closes the show, parading around the stage with guitar elevated triumphally over her head.
Anna Calvi, Leith Theatre, 11 Aug, 7pm