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Review: Lianne la Havas enthralls audience at O2 Institute

  • Birmingham’s O2 Institute was packed with enthusiastic fans for Lianne la Havas on Friday December 4th
  • A flawless performance engaged the crowd and left them begging for more
  • Roseau supported with a polished and genre-busting set

The Institute was queuing around the block as a most diverse mix of gig-goers awaited entry into not only Lianne la Havas, but also sixties rock veterans The Zombie’s concert in the downstairs O2 Institute2.

Roseau at the O2 Institute in BirminghamRoseau

La Havas’ supporting act Roseau started her set not with a bang, but with some understated and incredibly slick ambient trip hop. Despite only having two musicians accompanying her, an inconspicuous Macbook provides some backing vocals and automated instrumentation, blended perfectly with the live instruments. Roseau defies genre categorization, switching between hip-hop, electro-pop and even picking up a guitar for some shimmery shoegaze effects. On paper, a set like hers seems muddled and confusing, but her wonderful voice ties it all together and gives it coherence.

Lianne La Havas at the O2 Institute in BirminghamLianne La Havas

When Lianne la Havas takes the stage, she doesn’t give any clues as to how incredible the imminent performance will be. She appears as a mere mortal, like you and I, but when her music starts it becomes quite clear that there is more talent in that one person than can be explained by science or magic.

Take a song like ‘Au Cinéma’. The lyrics are clever, the arrangement is intricate and takes you on a journey – it builds wonderfully from a low-key intro as elements of the band gradually join in – and her voice is simply perfect. A strong song on its own, la Havas segues it into Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ out of nowhere, just because she can make it work.

Lianne La Havas at the O2 Institute in Birmingham
Lianne La Havas

La Havas is nothing short of a virtuoso with her guitar in hand. She favors a woody, jazzy tone and even the sound of her left hand sliding across the strings sounds beautifully musical. Famously defiant of vague genre classifications, she moves effortlessly between mellow jazz, harder rock and 1980s-style pop (reminiscent of Prince, who is perhaps her most famous fan).

When the band leaves la Havas alone on stage, she enthralls the crowd. “It’s just you and me now”. A pin drop would deafen in those prolonged rests. The audience hangs on every note as she accompanies herself with intricate guitar parts, playing bass parts to counter her chord progressions and never letting anything less than perfect hit her microphone.

Lianne La Havas at the O2 Institute in BirminghamLianne La Havas

The band returns to the stage for the remainder of the set. While she has demonstrated that she doesn’t need the band, la Havas has surrounded herself with some brilliant musicians that only accentuate her own skill. They need to be the best musicians around to keep up with her and do justice to her musical creations. These aren’t your four-chord, chart-topping, bland pop songs, these are crafted pieces of musical genius and the band interprets them wonderfully.

Lianne La Havas at the O2 Institute in BirminghamLianne La Havas

Her initial encore is simply voice and piano and is predictably incredible. The entire night has been a showcase of her amazing talents as a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. “Should I bring my band back out?” she asks, before the final songs of the night. Don’t ask us, Lianne, you’re definitely the expert here.

Photographs by Zoe Shannon