O2 Academy 2, Oxford
9th March 2012
Lianne La Havas is adept at honesty. Tonight, the singer and guitarist – the guitar forming as much of her performance as her voice – is easily convincing her captivated audience that she means every word; she seems charmingly overwhelmed by all the adulation she’s getting in return.
It helps that her subject matter is relationship-based and confessional. Both an ex and her apparently current partner are covered. In Age, she channels a jazz-tinged Nina Simone insouciance into asking “Is it such a problem if he’s old as long as he does whatever he is told?” No Room for Doubt documents a blip with this older chap, her delicate yet selectively powerful voice betraying the despair and eventual resolution of the episode. In the effortlessly smooth Au Cinema, she could be Catherine Deneuve strolling with her beau down the Champs-Elysees into the end credits.
She’s so careful with her bitterness that even when she lets herself go a bit – as on Forget, her upbeat way of telling the ex to get lost – it still seems polite. Yet when she loses the guitar to finish the story of the “delightful ex” in the piano-backed Gone, she’s visibly moved.
Soul is too narrow a definition; Don’t Wake Me Up is probably her most commercial offering tonight but she still manages tight Imogen Heap-esque harmonies with her band, and forthcoming album title track Is Your Love Big Enough? has some great African-style guitar. Her voice has gentle soul inflections but not so much melisma that tune is obscured and subtlety lost (take note, Jessie J).
Few singers would be so gracious in making an audience feel like they’ve been reading her diary. It’s almost as if she’s grateful that she could bend our collective ear; relieved she had someone to sing it all out to.