“We love you,” screamed fans as English singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas stepped onto the stage at the Opera House and began to sing. “No Room for Doubt,” a moving song about deciding whether to walk away from a failing relationship or not, instantly sealed the disparate crowd into a circle of intimacy with the beautiful La Havas at its center.
With an emotive soulful voice that can sing the quintessential phone book, La Havas moved from raspy hushed richness to soaring and huge in the midst of a single song. Also a deft multi-instrumentalist, her technique heightened the emotional power of her vocals. When she slipped into her second song, the coyly sexy, “Au Cinema,” (You be the guy. I’ll be the girl), the swaying crowd was literally and figuratively at her feet.
In 2011, the 23-year-old Greek/Jamaican singer (born in London) burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere. When her EP, Lost & Found, caught fire in the U.K she was quickly snagged to be the opening act for Bon Iver’s 2011 tour. Since her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, she has been drawing major international attention and acclaim. Is Your Love Big Enough? was voted iTunes album of 2012, just months after its release.
Headlining her first Toronto show, La Havas was awed by the size of the crowd. “I’m thrilled,” she shared, to the delight of the audience. “I got to be honest with you, I’m astounded at this turnout. Thank you very much!”
The rapt crowd was taken through the highs and lows of romance. “You know there’s not a soul alive could understand you like I do,” she sang in, “Everything Everything.” While the aching love song, “They Could Be Wrong,” became a passionate anthem for lovers who feel that the odds (and the world) are stacked against them. Confident and warm, La Havas introduced the sexy, “Tease Me” with a grin that set off hoots and hollers’ from the crowd. “No, you’re a superstar,” she spiritedly shouted back to a fan afterwards.
With her elegance and sultry toned voice, La Havas’s musical reach is similar to the iconic Sade. Both ladies appeal to a very diverse cross section of people (20-somethings and beyond, hipsters to suits). The stylish crowd were adamant admirers. Every pause between songs was quickly filled by fans trying to get her attention. Not since a Mariah Carey concert have I seen fans passing poems up to the stage to woo the singer. “So many wonderful creative types here,” she said after reading a stanza from one.
La Havas juggled all the attention effortlessly, even responding to questions about her two guitars. “This one is my old faithful,” she explained as she swung the mint/white guitar over her shoulder. “Her name is Connie. I named her after my grandma. The other one is my new one and I named it, Little Prince. They satisfy different functions.” It was moments like these that made the already affable singer even more likable (and unlike Mariah Carey she didn’t spin off into too many pointless digressions).
Is Your Love Big Enough? addresses the universal experiences of love and pain and is as raw, compelling, and based on La Havas’s real life experience, as Adele’s, 21. “What the heck, man, last time I checked man, we had it all,” she wails in, “Gone.” Towards the end couples slowly danced to, “Don’t Wake Me Up,” (I’d take my life to stay in your bed). After taking an Instagram photo of the crowd she completed the show with a multi-song encore that included the good-natured little ditty, “Age,” weaving in little Toronto nuggets to personalize the song for the audience.
By her sophomore album seeing La Havas perform in a mid-sized venue like the Opera House will be a thing of the past but with her capacity to create such intimacy, it will feel just as personal.
Side note: If you’re a single guy or gal, a La Havas concert may be the place to meet eligible lovers (a runoff from all the admirers, of both sexes, stacked in the audience). Just another good reason to see her the next time she graces us with her soulful brilliance.
Musical Tribe: Alicia Keys (But soulful folk), India Arie, Sade, Adele
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.