Lianne La Havas, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
The last time I saw Lianne la Havas, she was performing in a tiny box of a room, filled with artificial smoke and hipsters jostling for space. Then, she seemed flattered by the tiny crowd that had come to hear her play for an hour. That was before last year’s Mercury prize nomination and before her first album, Is Your Love Big Enough? was named iTunes Album of the Year. Has fame changed her?
“This is the biggest audience I’ve ever seen at my own show!” She trills with a voice that makes you want to tuck her up in bed and feed her cough syrup, “and it makes me extremely proud ...I don’t regret leaving art college!” The only visible alteration tonight is Connie, her favourite little blue guitar, which needs mending. Tonight she’s playing a new shiny white one, called the Little Prince.
The Streatham singer’s beaming smile and carefree manner suggest she regrets very little about her 23 years on this planet - not even the failed relationship that inspired much of her more poignant material, like “Lost & Found”, where tonight the newly-acquired band adds texture to the simple, yet moving, tune. She dedicates her songs to “the people of home, my lovely London,” Perhaps all her touring is making her homesick?
“Is Your Love Big Enough?” the title track of her debut album, is a robust ska-influenced soul number. La Havas’ lone backing singer stands directly behind her like a shadow; just a black silhouette with wild hair that offers powerful backing to la Havas’ Nina Simone-style simper.
La Havas is playful tonight, with every shout of admiration from the crowd (and there are several) she returns the compliment. Dressed in see-through black skirt and a tasseled black and gold top that shows her midriff you can see why the crowd just can’t resist shouting “I love you!” and “You’re buff!”. “Oh, you’re too much!” she giggles coyly.
It’s a shame la Havas isn’t up to her full powers tonight and songs like the jazzy “Au Cinema” and the banshee shriek of “Forget” lack oomph. “Tease Me” actually works with this smoky sore voice; it’s just her and the Little Prince for this number, and her voice becomes delicate and seductive.
It seems that everything has fallen into place for La Havas, there’s very little angst left to fuel those brilliantly moody songs. My money’s on her next album being a very joyful one.
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