Gig review: Anna Calvi, Cuckoo Chaos, & She Keeps Bees – Live at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC, 5/25/2011

Once again, I hopped on the J train to the Bowery stop to the wonderful Bowery Ballroom. This venue is very quickly becoming one of my absolute favorites in the entire world, and yet again, I was treated to a great show that introduced me to a wonderful act I had never heard before and solidified an opinion that was already high for the headliner.

Jessica Larrabee of She Keeps Bees

Up first was Brooklyn’s “She Keeps Bees“, a duo consisting of Jessica Larrabee on guitar and vocals and Andy LaPlant on the skins. The best way to describe “She Keeps Bees” is take The White Stripes, swap Meg and Jack’s instruments, and replace the vocals with a soulful and bluesy female reminiscent of Cat Power. I was incredibly impressed with these two and I wanted them to keep going once their set finished. Most impressive was Larrabee’s stage presence. She playfully bantered with the audience and kept spirits light, but when she got going on the guitar and vocals, she had everyone’s attention. I especially loved her ability to captivate with simplicity, especially during some of the numbers where she was singing with only the drums as the backing instrument. Fantastic vocals, above average guitar-work, and a solid backbone really filled their sound out. I didn’t even notice until now that they didn’t have a bass player. None was necessary. An excellent introduction to a band I am diving headfirst into immediately. It didn’t hurt at all that Jessica is a beautiful girl and her lighthearted banter went a long way in my eyes. Luckily, they have two full length LPs and a couple of EPs/singles out there to keep me occupied till I definitely catch them again.

Cuckoo Chaos

Second on the bill was San Diego’s Cuckoo Chaos, a five-piece indie rock act. Like the first act of the night, this band was a complete unknown to me going in. After the fantastic first act, I was hoping for more of the same when it was time for these guys to play. While their stage was being set up, I was impressed by the fact there were 4 microphones front and center. Immediately, I was thinking there would be some great harmonies. They’re quite hard to pigeonhole looking back, which is a good thing. Sadly, I can’t say that I was overly impressed with their set. They were very capable musicians and carried themselves well on stage, the music just didn’t click with me.  I also felt that the 4 vocalists was a bit overkill as none of them seemed to really have a fronting voice and the harmonies were few and far between. Big kudos to themtelling us that they drove to New York City from San Diego directly in 48 hours. That is a helluva haul considering the last time I drove cross country, it took almost 6 days. Then again, I only drove 8 hours per day. Capable band and undoubtedly will gain some fans after tonight, but not really in my wheelhouse.

Finally, the headlining act was ready to take the stage.  Anna Calvi is a singer/songwriter/guitaress extraordinaire who lives in London, but has a multi-cultural background and upbringing.  She’s apparently a Brian Eno protege, so that should tell you that she is very highly regarded. I first became aware of Anna on a whim about 6 months ago while browsing Youtube. Shortly thereafter, her debut self-titled album was released which I immediately grabbed and have been hooked ever since. I was first due to see Anna back in March on the same night as I saw The Love Language and Telekinesis at the Mercury Lounge, but unfortunately Anna had to cancel. I was greatly disappointed when that occurred because of my love for that venue, but was very happy to hear that she was returning when this show was announced shortly thereafter. The best way to describe Anna’s music is “romantic rock”.  Take a bit of Edith Piaf, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, and some blues, put it in a blender and you may come close. Backing Anna on this night was Mally Harpaz on the harmonium and various percussion instruments, and Daniel Malden-Wood on the drums.

Anna Calvi

When Anna first took the stage, I was struck by how small she seemed. What was not there in stature, was absolutely forgotten about when she started to play the strains of “Rider to the Sea”, which is also the opening track on her record. A simple guitar instrumental that highlighted her downright scintillating ability on the guitar that, just like the record, led into No More Words, which has  quickly become a favorite. She led a brisk and short set that saw her play the majority of the debut, an Elvis Presley cover (Surrender), an Edith Piaf cover (Jezebel), and finally closing with the album’s closer “Love Wont Be Leaving”, which gave us an absolutely terrific Anna guitar solo. I was also pleased that we received a blistering rendition of her album track, “Desire“, which is arguably my favorite tune of hers up to this point.

I was pretty much blown away by Anna Calvi and her bandmates this evening. Again, the set was over too soon, but I don’t think there’s a shadow of a doubt that this is someone to take notice of. Definitely check her record out or go see her perform if you have the opportunity. This is one of those gigs that I am thankful that I was able to attend.

Here’s a video capture of the aforementioned “Love Wont Be Leaving” that I recorded.

Anna Calvi – 10/10

Cuckoo Chaos – 6/10

She Keeps Bees – 9/10

I have more pics via the buttons on the left if interested.


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