If there’s a word that best defines British soul singer Lianne La Havas, it’s authentic. She brought her blend of authenticity, charm, and soulful talent to her performance at Washington, DC’s The Hamilton Live on February 3rd, 2016. Though she played sans band, she commanded the stage with a humble demeanor and delightful performance style that was both endearing and vulnerable, like so many of her heartfelt lyrics. Playing to a predominantly seated (and snacking/drinking) audience, this show had something of an old world feel to it, often lost on DC; especially in a bluesy-folk-centric venue like The Hamilton, a far cry from the parkay floors and fog in the standing room only 9:30 Club, where she played last year.
The impetus for her solo tour was a desire to strip down a lot of instrumentation that found its way onto her album and get back to her musical roots, as she said, to just her and a guitar, where she started. She showcased more instrumental songs from her album Blood, released summer 2015, like “Unstoppable” and ‘Green and Gold”, matching her desire to be raw with the audience and a talent for rhythmic jams and soulful riff between lyrics. Her performance showed an incredible command of her voice, a quiet strength, and a talent imbued with depth, passion, and soul. The audience responded with as much love as she gave them too, even breaking into laughter when she commented on how “polite” a crowd they were, “and in DC no less.” She further engaged and incorporated the crowd on songs like “Tokyo”, asking them to snap along while she strummed her guitar and likewise created a sing-along when she covered “Say A Little Prayer.”
La Havas’s music and style are enjoyable most notably due to an unpretentious and accessible nature she exudes. She doesn’t have to sing for crowds, she gets to perform for friends she’s never met, and you can feel the difference. She is reminiscent in banter and joy to Zooey Deschanel crossed with a more soulful Janelle Monae, moving the audience, from chills to laughter to unwavering grins. She exudes and sings with a genuine sweetness that avoids so much of the cloying, saccharin hooks and gimmicks so much modern pop engages in. Closing the show with songs like “Age” and bringing the audience to a standing ovation with her encore on “Forget,” her set felt surprisingly short, while satisfying and energetic.
In La Havas you find a musician/vocalist not too tightly wound that she’s no longer having fun while commanding a soulful rhythm and engaging her listeners. She strikes you as a performer; a musician that thrives on the stage and is more of a caged bird when in the studio, though that’s not to say her music is subdued,rather, it is vibrant and full of life. Her live performances provide an enjoyable contrast to what can be a somewhat “manufactured to perfection” studio-recorded sound. Though her style might indicate a certain simpleness of structure and verse, she excels at combining complexities of emotion, relationships, and history that weave together a beautiful tapestry of joy and triumph.