by Dom Jones
I first heard the voice of Lianne La Havas in passing, on the radio. It was the end of “Lost and Found,” and I would spend the next six months trying to identify the song behind the name. I would hear the song, in full, when played by the DJ at an Elle Varner concert. Finally, I googled the first line of the chorus. Alas, Lianne was revealed to me. From then on, I was a bonafide fan, immediately downloading her first album Is Your Love Big Enough? and anxiously awaiting the next. The next arrived in the form of her sophomore album Blood from which she performed many songs this past Tuesday at Cafè 939 on our campus.
The first indication of the excitement around her coming to Berklee was the manner in which the show rapidly sold out! Students and Bostonians alike wanted to see the London singer/songwriter perform, and the line was curving out of the doors nearly 45 minutes before doors would even open. I recall hearing a student exclaim to her group of friends that La Havas was her vocal idol, and that she’d been waiting “her whole life” for this concert. As much passion as the artist has in her music, the fans seemed to intensely reciprocate before even one note had been sung. Once the doors did open, I was immediately struck by the almost bare stage, save the two guitars sitting in their stands. As Berklee students, we often see (and sometimes expect) shows with a million-piece band, so much so that the artist barely has anywhere to stand. What Lianne would illustrate to us was the potency of simplicity, and how allowing one’s lyric and vocal to shine above theatrics could create the most powerful performance of all. Upon taking the stage, she would greet us, sweetly, in her raspy speaking voice. This was the first of many times throughout the night that she would remark upon how “lovely” we all were. She explained that she’d brought no band with her, just her guitars, “because I wanted to.” With that, she launched into her first album’s “Au Cinema” to a mesmerized audience. As I looked around, I could see mostly everyone mouthing the words, but daring not to sing aloud, as to disrupt Lianne’s heavenly vocals. The precision with which she performed that first tune was a personal lesson to me in the importance of consistent practice. The clarity of her tone was a clear indication of a well taken care of instrument.
I was also struck by the pure joy with with Lianne engaged the entire show. I felt like I was a guest in her home, being served musical tea and cookies. She invited us to sing background vocals for her on a few songs, including “Midnight.” Standouts from the night included my favorite song from her first album called “No Room for Doubt,” a song which she told us she rarely performs and invited us to remember our loved ones during the tune “Good Goodbye,” and her inspiring and jazzy cover of “I Say A Little Prayer For You.” That cover, to me, showed how a broad musical palette can serve the artist. Standing next to me were two young children, both who looked under the age of 10, both who unabashedly belted out the lyrics to many of her songs: another indicator that her music has reach, transcendent of age. After what she told us was the final song, Lianne returned to the stage minutes later to a still cheering audience to perform an encore. Upon performing two more tunes, one called “Fairytale” which has yet to be released, she thanked us, told us she loved us, and invited anyone who wanted to meet her to stay afterwards. Deepening my admiration for her as an artist and a human being, she stayed to greet, sign autographs for, and take selfies with at least 75 fans, giving each person an authentic experience beyond what we’d just witnessed in a remarkable acoustic performance. I left Cafè 939 feeling grateful to have once heard a pure, but fleeting voice, years ago on the radio in my car.