Published Sep 30, 2015Lianne La Havas has found her niche, and she's working it hard. Once a folk singer with tinges of a little R&B and soul, her band was a full-power pop force on Tuesday night (September 29) at the Corona Theatre. Riding off the success of her sophomore album Blood, La Havas is currently touring North America through to the end of October.
Before La Havas' main set, a rain-dampened crowd sat comfortably on removable seating on the floor of the Corona, aiding to a subdued listening mood. First opener Keenan O'Meara used the quiet to his advantage, spinning tapestries of sweet chords, pitch-perfect falsetto and genuinely strange and captivating lyrics through his too-short set. His vibe was refreshing and uncontrived, humble and honest, and the crowd was hooked in from his first word to his last.
Unfortunately, the second opening act, Quebec singer Charlotte Cardin, couldn't keep the soft, magical mood alive. While her vocal flourishes were sometimes impressive, she came across as far too much of an Amy Winehouse knockoff, occasionally verging on cliché during her set, and her band's arrangements and general musical choices also seemed predictable. Especially odd was a cover of TLC's "Scrubs," which was somewhat funny, but mostly wildly out of context.
When La Havas did eventually show, she did it in style, strutting out on four-inch platforms and swinging a three-quarter-sized electric bass — not her usual instrument. She played a couple of cuts from her latest album before digging into favourites from her debut LP, Is Your Love Big Enough? The contrast between her old and new material was marked; new songs such as "Unstoppable," "What You Don't Do" and "Never Get Enough" have swung so far toward a mainstream pop aesthetic that her previous gift for subtleties and turns-of-tongue seem just a little lacking.
Nevertheless, on the new songs, her vocal abilities were boldly demonstrated and often jaw dropping. One got the sense she was having quite a good time showing off her chops, which the crowd also enjoyed very much. The mood throughout the show was high, but the most touching and memorable moments came when she was left alone on stage with only her guitar. The highlight of the night was a very intimate version of "No Room For Doubt," on which she was allowed to let her voice be soft and wispy, her demeanour open and without pretence.
It was a welcome respite from the loud and superficial pop sound that dominated the rest of the evening. While on the whole a good show, La Havas is an artist in transition. Here's hoping it's for the better.