When Anna Calvi incants a whispered ‘No, don’t you stop me’ mantra on Wish, from Hunter, her third, Mercury Music Prize nominated album, the hush that greets it as she points her finger at the audience following an epic guitar wig-out suggests no-one in the room would dare.
Calvi’s first return to Edinburgh International Festival since 2015 saw her sashay onstage already twanging at her guitar on a rawer and less dreamy take on Hunter’s title track. Black-clad, Medusa-haired and accompanied by the martial engine room of drummer Alex Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz, Calvi’s mix of primal keening and guitar slashes rooted in 1950s juke-box melodrama came alive with a gender-hopping psycho-sexual ferocity. The intensity of the work may point to something transcendent, but she remains in total control.
Stuttering Bo Diddleyesque guitar patterns give way to the woozy loveliness of the David Hockney inspired Swimming Pool. This in turn snakes its way towards the rolling thunder of Desire, before Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy sees Calvi on her knees, wrestling her guitar into noisy submission before she’s bathed in a red triangle of light for Alpha.
Calvi’s other-worldly operatics resemble a wide-screen fusion of John Barry and Ennio Morricone possessed by the mercurial spirit of Billy MacKenzie and infused with the space-age analog of Joe Meek. In this respect, Calvi sounds like she’d be as at ease performing Frankie Laine’s version of Ghost Riders in the Sky as she would be doing Ghost Rider by Suicide.
The latter closes the show following a solo take on Eden, the accompanying pin-drop hush only broken by the visceral flamenco of another Laine song, Jezebel, which Calvi released as her first single almost a decade ago. Harpaz and Thomas join her for Ghost Rider, an exercise in rock and roll primitivism that got its creators bottled off stage forty-odd years ago, but which Calvi makes her own. As she raises her guitar above her head like a trophy, it looks like victory.
The Herald, August 12th 2019