– Yes Pink Room, Manchester –

Anna B Savage

Anna B Savage

To describe this Anna B Savage show as eagerly awaited would be a major understatement. The searing intensity of her first album, ‘A Common Turn’, became one of my soundtracks to 2021’s winter lockdown while her more nuanced follow-up, ‘in/FLUX,’ has already established itself as a leading contender for album of 2023.

Prior to the gig, I had some anxieties. None of them related to the quality of her rich, distinctive voice as a couple of live Marc Riley sessions and an acoustic appearance on Radio 4’s ‘Loose Ends’ made it clear that its power was not dependent upon studio trickery. However, it was easy to wonder how she copes with delivering such emotionally intense songs on a nightly basis.

Having spent the last three years self-isolating while caring for my mother, I also had no idea whether upon returning to a crowded public space I would be able to focus on the music or if I would be embarrassingly overcome with emotion. Savage and her band (Joe Taylor – drums, Peter Darlington – bass, and Genevieve Dawson – synths/piano/occasional guitar) enter the stage, dressed all in orange, an auspicious complement to The Pink Room, a venue with décor living up to its name. They launch into ‘The Ghost’, ‘in/FLUX’s opening track and my personal doubts are assuaged. A surge of energy runs through me. Underneath my mask, I am mouthing the words, resisting the urge to sing along loudly or dance in a manner inappropriate to the confined space, contenting myself with shaking intensely. I am reminded why the best gigs were always my safe space, the one place outside my home where I feel comfortable.

Following this with ‘Touch Me’, Savage reveals the comedic approach she uses to defuse the intensity. As the song quietens, she near whispers, “this is the best bit, isn’t it?” and wiggles her eyebrows in suggestive comedic style before continuing, “I miss the ache”. Carrying on with material from ‘in/FLUX’ which is played in its shuffled entirety tonight, she often closes her eyes while singing and holds her guitar high, almost like a shield. She remarks that when she reopens her eyes, she expects some of the crowd to have left and how she had anticipated that the audience would consist of a smattering of people she knew from her time as a student in Manchester. In interviews, she has discussed her imposter syndrome which seems absurd to fans of her incredible voice and songs of breath-taking near-the-knuckle honesty but is not surprising from someone whose songs sound like sessions with her therapist.

In reality, while The Pink Room is not quite sold out, it is comfortably full without being horribly cramped. The audience are quiet but thunderously attentive with no danger of the low volume passages being disturbed by chatter. While Savage undoubtedly warrants a larger following, hers is music that benefits from being presented in an intimate venue rather than being lost in the stadium circuit.

Moving onto ‘Dead Pursuits’ from ‘A Common Turn’, Savage comments, “this one’s heavy, not that everything else has been sweetness and light”. It is followed with ‘Two’ as she acknowledges with a giggle, “this one’s even worse”. Her band give it extra dynamism compared to the recorded version, the rumble of Taylor’s drum recalling the effect of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Ocean’.

After her latest album’s title track which provides her most gymnastic vocal workout where her shrieks are especially soulful, followed by a moving ‘A Common Tern’, Savage announces the final song while mentioning that they do not play encores as they are ridiculous. It is ‘The Orange’ (hence the outfits), a reference to Wendy Cope’s poem rather than the narcissistic, neo-Nazi 45th President of the USA. Describing it as her favourite song and a palette cleanser, she confides that last night “someone said ‘I’m glad you played that, otherwise I would have gone home miserable’”. With its repeated mantra of “if this is all that there is / I think I’m going to be fine”, it makes for a soothing lullaby to send us into the night. It has been a triumphant evening that has rekindled my love affair with live music and a reminder of what I have missed over the last three years.

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I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.