Singer-songwriter Calcutta delights homesick Italians in London — live review

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It seemed like every Italian in London had gathered for Calcutta’s London concert on Sunday evening. Edoardo D’Erme, stage name Calcutta, arrived fresh from a sold-out Italian tour of his latest album, Relax, for his second ever live date in the UK. Unlike rockers Måneskin, one of the only Italian acts to have toured the country in recent years, Calcutta doesn’t make music in English. But as Italian is the most commonly held foreign nationality in the capital, this didn’t stop him from almost filling the 2,300-capacity venue. The audience was mostly made up of semi-anglicised Italians, many of whom arrived in clouds of vapour from IQOS e-cigarettes.

Concerts in Rome are something of a homecoming for D’Erme, who hails from the province of Latina, just south of the Eternal City. But the warmth and familiarity with which he was received in London were so palpable that it felt like a homecoming for the audience.

Calcutta is a cantautore, a singer-songwriter, making him part of a long tradition that encompasses names such as Francesco De Gregori, known as the “Prince” of singer-songwriters, Lucio Battisti and Paolo Conte. Since their heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, the cantautori have defined Italian music with their storytelling and political commentary.

Though he has tried to distance himself from that tradition, saying he doesn’t consider himself part of it (his approach to politics is less direct), his music is clearly influenced stylistically by the decades in which they were most active. The synth he uses on Relax is distinctly 1970s-sounding and reminiscent of Battisti. Yet his style is entirely singular. His music occupies a meeting point between the romantic and the deliberately banal — he moves from sardonicism to heartfelt poetry, with melodies that mirror the sentiment of the lyrics.

The show opened with the self-referential choral harmonies of “Coro”, Calcutta singing: “If money didn’t exist . . . You wouldn’t have Sanremo. Maybe it’s better that way.” He is openly dismissive of the idea of performing at Sanremo, the longest-running televised music festival in the world, where every Italian artist of note, from Måneskin to Andrea Bocelli, has performed. It would be “too stressful and complicated”, says Calcutta.

This playful disdain for the industry he is part of, along with his lack of polish and his casual manner, underlies his appeal. His stage name is thought to have been chosen at random, a hangover from the musical duo that preceded his solo act. On stage, peeping out from behind the dark glasses, scruffy fringe and baseball cap that have become a signature, he spent so much time hunched over the microphone, you wondered why he didn’t just raise it up a bit.

While he is no showman, Calcutta’s clear, powerful voice lent his performance a striking authenticity. Accompanied by a band with an arsenal of keyboards and synthesisers, there was no hiding behind pre-recordings. This same authenticity coloured his occasional engagement with the audience; he steered clear of gimmicks and disingenuous speeches. When it came time to playPesto”, one of his biggest hits, he introduced it simply by saying the first word of the song, to laughter and applause. This humour extended to the city in which he was playing. The visuals accompanying crowd-pleaser “Giro con te” (“A stroll with you”) showed a Google street view of London with Calcutta’s head projected against it.

But he was at his most witty when singing about home, his lyrics communicating an idiosyncratic experience of his home country in an endearing and clever way. Pesaro is an “intelligent woman”, Milan is a “hospital ward” and Rome is somewhere you can “sleep naked on the roofs”, watching the sun disappear over the city with a Coke Light in hand. For homesick Italians, who shouted those lyrics back at him with ferocity, there is clearly no better place than in Calcutta’s company.


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