You’d have forgiven Anna B Savage and her band for crumbling early in their set. Just two songs in, and with an excited crowd finally calming to the point where you could hear a pin drop, some crunchy clatter came through the speakers and shook everyone’s eardrums. We had a malfunction. You could see a minor piece of panic on Anna’s face as her band frantically tried to fix the problem, but she pushed this aside as she picked up her acoustic guitar and gave us an emotionally wraught rendition of the beautiful ‘Baby Grand.’ But as this superb song drew to a close you could see the band still clamouring and Anna stepped forward to tell us they were going to take five minutes to try and fix it and, if they couldn’t, she would return to complete a solo set. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Anna stated that this was only her second show as a full band, and it had all started so well. ‘A Steady Warmth’ had lulled us in before Anna laid herself bare with her masturbation anthem, and my song of the year, ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 3’.
Let’s be honest, most people in the room would have coped perfectly fine if we’d ended up with a solo set from Anna. Anyone who has fallen for her music since A Common Turn will largely have been drawn in her by her storytelling and lyricism, her sumptuous, wide-ranging voice, and the humour and honesty she puts into her performances. All those factors would have been there with just her and an acoustic guitar. Regardless, the relief in the room (and on the stage) was palpable when the full band returned with smiles plastered across their faces. A brooding and intense version of ‘Bedstuy’ was to follow, before the whole room was captivated by ‘Dead Pursuits.’
It wasn’t until the two songs from recent EP These Dreams entered the setlist, though, that the true importance of the whole band became apparent to this performance. ‘Since We Broke Up’ was the big singalong moment of the show, but it was the extra flourishes added by producer and artist William Doyle that made this a standout moment. And then we moved into ‘These Dreams.’ For the only time in the evening, Anna was without an instrument in her hand. This allowed her to grip the microphone tightly in her hands and give off a series of intense facial expressions as her voice reached peak performance for the evening, all while her bandmates created a glorious, crunching racket behind her, using every muscle to make the room shake. This was an intensity that even the biggest Anna fan couldn’t have expected – the moment this gig went meteoric.
A bluesy ‘Corncrakes’ and a perfect ‘A Common Tern’ were to follow, but the other most memorable moments were saved until the final two songs. Back when we interviewed Anna earlier this year, we discussed how she was going to bring some of the more out there and adventurous moments of her album to the stage and at the time she didn’t seem to have come to a conclusion. She answered this emphatically with ‘Two.’ That crazy electronic breakdown that comes with the chorus became even crazier, turning into something that resembled the sounds in the dance tent in the early hours at a festival. It was an uplifting and cathartic moment. But it was almost hard to believe that the band and artist who put that together, were the same band that gave us the most gorgeous and moving part of the night to close us out. Slowing things down for ‘One’, we felt every insecurity and truth that Anna tells us with her words. It was the perfect way to remind us what a special songwriter we were watching.
And let’s end with a few words about that songwriter. I’ve awaited this show expecting it to blow me away, but what I didn’t expect was the amazing variety and fluctuation within the performance. To go from Anna admitting how ‘goofy’ she was going to be in the talking parts, doing the floss as her band tuned up, to letting out the screeching wails she gave us on ‘These Dreams’ and the gentle honesty on ‘One’ and ‘Baby Grand’ was truly surprising. And I also didn’t expect this ridiculously humble artist to be such a fucking rock star – but she was. She totally owned the stage. Last night ended any doubts about who my standout musician of 2021 is going to be – when I think of this year’s music, I’ll think of Anna B Savage.
Words by Fran Slater