Published Apr 06, 2013Following the steady, methodical rise of London-based singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas from relative obscurity less than two years ago to her first North American headlining tour has been like watching someone take their first steps out before working up to a sprint. From those captivating initial video performances to her series of timely EP releases and TV appearances, and a resulting opening spot on Bon Iver's 2011 tour, every next step and subsequent round of acclaim that followed has felt fitting. It was a growing sign of the compelling artistry that earned her iTunes UK Album of the Year in 2012, and it was all on full display during her recent stop at Toronto's Opera House.
British blues-rocker Jamie N Commons did an admirable job in the night's opening slot, his floor stomping, raise-your-glass grooves filling the venue to the surprisingly enthusiastic response of the many eager early arrivals who'd already nearly filled the room's lower level. Commons' deep-throated delivery, backed by the heavy rhythm guitar, busy piano work and four-part harmonies of his fellow players, led the crowd through a rousing collection of rootsy sing-alongs. Many, judging by his music output, assumed he was an American, before some between-song banter about a transvestite and his wild times in Toronto the night before revealed his accent.
The night's shining star toyed with the crowd through the slight dramatic pauses and smooth vocal shifts in her opening tune "No Room For Doubt". The playfully romantic turns of "Au Cinema" soon followed, and began an increasingly relaxed and engaging exchange between singer and audience that would continue throughout the night, a fact hardly surprising for someone as completely at home in front of an audience as Lianne showed herself to be. At one point, she read a small excerpt of a poem she received from an audience member down front, then granted the room an uncharacteristic love song in "Don't Wake Me Up." In another, she took time out to answer a question about the differences between her two guitars (Connie and Little Prince, we'd subsequently learn), before asking the crowd to serve as human percussion for the comparatively rollicking "Is Your Love Big Enough."
Indeed, the incessant swing of her nimble fingerpicking is a notable part of her music charm, but it's Lianne's caramel-creamy vocal tones and incredible dynamic range that are most likely to leave you floored, as they did on tunes like the past love cleansing "Forget," or the soaring "Everything Everything." That voice, already full-bodied on record, takes on new dimensions in the open air of a spacious concert hall, smothering the room in a enveloping haze of thick, soulful sultriness. The singer offered up a few unique sides to both her vocal and instrumental creativity late in the set, including in an interestingly soul-touched rendition of Radiohead's "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," along with the hip-swivelling '60s soul ballad "Empty" that lead the show's encore portion. Recent single "Elusive" would follow before Lianne, genuinely thankful for the laughs, interactions, and surprises she shared throughout the night, graciously praised the crowd, snapped her customary instagram photo, and wrapped things up with one final moment of unprovoked audience participation on closing number "Age." Lianne la Havas is arresting in all facets — in her voice, her politeness, her warmth, her beauty, and in the ability of her songs to connect so deeply with listeners. If the response the young songwriter received from those who filled out the spacious Opera House that night was any indication, it seems that a whole lot of other people think so too.