Rock guitarist Anna Calvi is living feminist wildfire. Her 2011, game-changer debut album instantly castrated sacred notions of male guitar god supremacy, and tonight, her beautiful heresy’s fiercer still.
Is she straight? Bi? Undecided? Who cares? Isn’t mystery and mystique the most panting aphrodisiac ever? And in a web-scape awash with Miley Cyrus booty, frankly, flesh-flashing is beyond passé.
So back to Miz Calvi, the darling of indie-kids of all ages. You’ve seen her, maybe, on You Tube or Jules Holland, all crimson, neck-high blouse, raw-wound lipstick and black toreador pants, her classic, Michaelangelo mouth constantly kissing desire. Petite but poised, her hair as tight-gripped as a suppressed climax, she’s perfect pop androgyny, a female Pete Doherty of startling cupidity.
Not tonight, however, in her highest profile gig yet at ex-Talking Head David Byrne’s Meltdown. Hushed and expectant, eyes straining for Calvi’s entrance, we’re unexpectedly caressed by a low, almost subsonic, hum, as twelve white-cloaked choristers file onstage. Forming a protective crescent moon, they frame the suddenly-here Calvi, a rock-goddess Joan Of Arc dwarfed by her trademark guitar.
And quite properly, in accord with the aura of imminent rapture, it’s as if Calvi’s signature scarlet blouse has bled out to pure, satin-weave white from the streaming wounds of her sung passion. Ah, but if the trappings, ambiance and yearning seem screamingly religious, they’re focused on human transcendence, not some dumb, mythical sky-guy; Calvi’s way too sharp to fall for manic dogma.
Rather, she’s the lead attack angel of bliss, frenzy and scorching connection, an imperial killer queen drunk on her own guitar ecstasies. Miraculously fusing flamenco, rock and reverb over furious, stampeding drums, her mezzo-soprano simply soaring with liquid libido, Calvi is pure, delirious, multiple sonic orgasm.
Singing with excess, storming ambition and sheer abandon inconceivable to X-Factor mediocrities, Calvi, incredibly, utterly redefines Torch Song sizzle for the 21st Century.
Okay, the set’s not all deathless swoon and smoulder – especially when a duet with lean, tanned preppy David Byrne arguably breaks the flow – but Calvi’s glacial, blue-steel guitar brilliance is a constant beacon to otherworldliness.
And what fabulous harbours that beacon signals; Edith Piaf’s ‘Jezebel’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘On Fire’ and Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, seamlessly buttressed by ‘The Devil’ and ‘Blackout’, Calvi’s own glorious odes to the ineffable.
Moving like no other guitar player, part matador, part frenzied, sacredly erotic Ken Russell nun, Calvi brandishes her snow-white Stratocaster like a reincarnated Boudicca pissing on male patriarchy.
Far more than Kate Perry, Jessie J or even the ferociously trashy, but culturally impotent, Courtney Love, Calvi crucially reclaims impeccable pop dignity for standalone, female artistry. No, she’s not competing with the boys in their playground – her conceptual aplomb dwarfs that demeaning idiocy – and has no need or wish to.
Instead, as she exits in a susurrus of chanted, hymnal Latin, Calvi – along with like-minded mavericks Bjork, Laurie Anderson and Diamanda Galas – is building new platforms for new voices, and new expressions of confronting gender. To do that in the world of pop and rock is impressive enough, but – like David Bowie before her – she’s helping pan-sexuality pour free, naked and unrestrained in an explosive, cultural ferment. Anna Calvi – the warrior-queen harbinger of a world way beyond binary, us-and-them stupidity? Perhaps there’s no greater praise than that.