Anna Calvi is back and still the troubadour. In her delicate moments, it's as if she's a ghost presence gently billowing the curtains with just a whisper.

It's been a two year wait. Nevertheless she's in celebratory mood this evening, following the release of second album One Breath the previous day. The songs are a response to family bereavement and largely continue the successful formula of the first record Anna Calvi, but with more classical orchestration. The stage band has expanded to include keyboards and Mally Harpaz's skilful harmonium playing is now also brought to the xylophone.


The Assembly Halls, emerging from its own re-vamp, is St. Petersburg palatial. Its excellent acoustics serve Calvi's dynamics admirably. It could soon cement its place as one of the capital's best venues.

The set opens with 'Suzanne and I', a song driven by Daniel Merriwood's tolling drums, that gives full expression to Anna's operatic power. She moves seamlessly on to latest single, 'Eliza', another of percussive charge and belting vocal, during which, her mouth seems to loom wide open like a shark. A further track from One Breath, 'Suddenly', deals in the trademark storm and lull of her writing, its clashing chords midway, reminiscent of The Doors' 'The End'.

Next up is 'Sing To Me', which has the glorious, nostalgic sweep of a celluloid Western soundtrack. Each of these offerings is punctuated by a humble, hushed 'thank you', giving credence to the popular conception of Anna Calvi as a being of contrasts. 'Piece By Piece', a multi-layered late Siouxie and The Banshees-esque number is the high point of the new repertoire, creating a wonderful sense of space between its separate musical elements.

Anna Calvi cites Jimi Hendrix as an influence however her performances are too measured and stylised to merit close comparison with the latter's incendiary chaos. Still, she is more satisfyingly raw live than the somewhat over-contrived production on her recordings.

'I'll Be Your Man' as ever stands out. 'The Devil' swells and dissipates and is the most faithful to her Andalucian visual aesthetics, infused with thematic echoes of composer Manuel de Falla. 'Blackout' and 'Desire' are perennial crowd favourites. Yet however she makes the long neck telecaster slide, reverberate or sing her audience is strangely mute and never seems to lose itself in the velvet texture and jagged violence of her music.

The set culminates in the talismanic 'Love Won't Be Leaving', a song that suffers death by arrangement in the studio, but here is stripped of adornment and features Anna's signature throwing back of the head during the tortured crescendo of its guitar break, her face in a kind of art house mortal-carnal ecstasy.


The brooding ballad 'Bleed Into Me' is the band's first encore. Anna is, unsurprisingly, popular in France and departs with her thundering rendition of Edith Piaf's 'Jezebel' to warm acclaim.

She describes her songs as narratives which the shifts in mood and dynamics are meant to reflect. They follow a similar pattern that can make the playlist feel like a one trick pony. However these remain early days and, with such an eclectic sensibility and natural talent, there could be fascinating experiments to come. Anna Calvi, as ever, is nothing short of mesmerising and the devil, albeit caged, is most definitely in the room.