LIVE: Lianne La Havas @ The Roundhouse, London
Few live music experiences begin with audience members drawing their curtains, adjusting their mood lighting, pouring themselves a glass of sauvignon blanc, and positioning their laptop such that the angle is best for when they prop themselves up with pillows. But such is the time we are living in, this is exactly how this show begins, in my case at least.
As the livestream clicks into life, any cynicism or uncertainty about the evening melts away instantly, the enduringly beautiful ‘No Room For Doubt’ introducing viewers, like it did almost a decade ago, to the sublime Lianne La Havas. Where once she played these opening notes sauntering along the bustling Parisian streets of Montmatre, she now crosses the empty floor of the Roundhouse to take up her position in the makeshift living room into which we’ve all been kindly invited.
It’s a stage setup that neatly captures the essence of the whole atypical experience; simultaneously intimate, a moment shared ostensibly between the performer and the individual viewer within the familiar comfortable surroundings of their own home, and yet inescapably more detached and distant as the sparseness of the famous London venue, its scale and expanse, are laid bare by the absence of any crowd.
Nevertheless, the sense of homely warmth pervades the domestic tableau which invokes walking into the living room of an old friend or relative; the vintage sofa and lampshade, family photos propped up in frames on wooden tables, a record player in the corner ready to spring into action, all adorned with cut flowers.
Photos courtesy of Nonesuch Records
After the reassuring and tender opener, other old favourites ‘Tease Me’ and ‘Au Cinema’ follow, before friend and backing vocalist for the evening Frida Touray is invited into the space to perform ‘Green Papaya’, a song from La Havas’ self-titled third album due for release just two days after this performance (on Friday 17th July).
Touray’s presence for the rest of the show adds further to the familial feeling: when she’s not behind a microphone offering an added level of texture to a various songs with her vocals, she sits down on the sofa to enjoy the show, offering up supportive comments and ripples of applause at the end of songs, and allowing La Havas to break the conspicuous silence with reciprocated words of affection and support.
Throughout the performance, all ‘in attendance’ are reminded of the supreme vocal talent of Lianne La Havas, her voice seamlessly transitioning from breathy and delicate, almost whispered, to crisp and powerful notes that punctuate the heightened quiet of her surroundings. This is perhaps most notable during both ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Bittersweet’, which along with fellow recent single ‘Paper Thin’ already sits comfortably alongside old favourites on the setlist. We are also introduced to other new songs ‘Seven Times’ and ‘Courage’, previously unheard offerings that serve to heighten the anticipation for the long-awaited new record.
Following ‘Bittersweet’, Lianne and Frida leave the stage for a quick break, dropping the needle on the aforementioned record player so that the sound of Native Dancer keeps us company in their brief absence. Upon returning, it becomes clear that the short interlude facilitated a costume change. La Havas returns adorned in a red, gold and green string dress, her braids no longer held back in a headband, a getup befitting the final two songs of the evening. Both ’Green & Gold’ and ‘Midnight’ were written on a trip to Jamaica that La Havas took to connect with her ancestral roots, the former a song in which she explicitly explores her heritage, a fitting way to end the show.
As well as the performers, credit must also go to the production team at Driift Live. Like the stage design itself, the lighting and direction was simple and unfussy, never intruding on the intimacy of the performance, and yet the multi-camera setup and sweeping shots lent the show an air of the cinematic that elevated the whole thing well above the sorts of ad-hoc livestream performance we’ve seen from various artist’s homes or studios over the past few months. A lot of thought and consideration had clearly gone into the show from all involved, and while a certain level of cynicism around paying to watch a livestream is perhaps understandable, no one could feel short-changed by the experience offered here. An experience that not only helps to support those within the industry, but one that, thanks La Havas giving all of her proceeds to BLM-related organisations, also helped to raise funds for a vital cause.
As La Havas herself said, she, like all of us, hopes that the return to having these experiences together, sharing in the communal joy of seeing our favourite artists perform live, can come soon. But while that’s not possible, this experience was thoroughly enjoyable, and above all a real moment of blissful distraction in the midst of abounding uncertainty.
Lianne La Havas is released on Friday on Warner Records.