British-born soul singer Lianne La Havas broke out last spring with “Unstoppable”, the lead single off the half-Jamaican, half-Greek singer’s sophomore record, Blood. Nearly a year later, “Unstoppable” could be a way to describe her career’s ascent.
La Havas played an intimate, stripped-down solo set at a sold out Red Room at Cafe 939 on Boylston Street last night, a few short months after performing at the much larger Royale. The packed crowd held their breath and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the multi-instrumentalist, whose music videos have racked up millions of views on YouTube.
“I love you,” La Havas breathed into her microphone after singing “Unstoppable”, which shows off her ability to hold a note like Whitney Houston and belt-it-out like Adele. The combination makes for one hell of a powerful delivery. Fitting for the approaching Valentine’s Day, Blood is composed of all kinds of love songs: regrettable love, unrequited love, mistakes in love, new love, older-boyfriend love, and endless love.
Last night at 939, it was obvious La Havas was having fun with her intimate set at the small venue. “So I have prepared a little something, a bit more controversial but I guarantee most of you know this song and if you do I hope you join in” she encouraged the audience. She disclosed it was only the second time she had ever “played it for human beings”, and went into a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer”. In addition to the cover and single, she shared new, unreleased songs, as well as “Good Good-Bye”, off Blood, a song she says she rarely plays.
Her tendency to invite the audience to sing along through call-and-response to the chorus in her songs was even more prevalent at this particular show because it took place among a vastly young crowd along Berklee College of Music’s campus. Everyone stood, awe-struck to witness her angelic voice, yet she was most interested in including the audience in part of the act through tapping or singing along.
“Oh my God, it’s the last song!” she cried, stealing the words from our mouths. “I could have sworn there was more. But I left [this] for last because it’s my favorite,” she cooed. “I wrote it in Kingston, Jamaica. It’s called ‘Midnight’”. With no backing band La Havas asked the audience to fill in for the rhythm section by clapping or “drumming” their feet along. “Just living at midnight, just living it Boston, living alone”, she improvised, to the delight of the crowd.
An encore followed, after the protests from the audience, and La Havas played three more songs, including a new track called “Fairy Tale”, which she recently recorded but has not yet released. “It’s about my baby cousin, if you’re wondering”, she mentioned before playing it, a heartfelt song about the hope and possibilities a new life brings into the world.
“This is the last song because I’m simply out of material”, she joked at the end of her set. It was hard to believe someone with such talent has a short discography. “I’ll be back for the next album” she consoled the heart-broken audience before breaking into “Forget”, a soulful rock ballad about an ex-love. Before she left the stage she said: “Just one thing, I’m going to grab my phone so I can take a picture of you. I just want to remember the evening… thank you so much”.
Afterwards, La Havas was incredibly kind to fans, staying around long after her set concluded until the last fan hugged her, smiling, posing for photos, with genuine warmth and excitement. Like her music, she was sweet, inviting, and down-to-earth.