Courtesy of The New York Times

September 13, 2016

ALUR | An Ode to Lianne La Havas

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On a typically dreary day in London during my semester abroad, my friend from Cornell and I began a text conversation about the artists we longed to see live. We had the privilege of seeing Norah Jones last fall at the State Theatre, and we began brainstorming other musicians who would be equally as enthralling. Lianne La Havas rolled off the tongue — a versatile musician who we had grown to love over the course of our college experiences. Her vibrato was a routine point of conversation, as no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t emulate the intense subtlety of her vocal wavering. And we had fond memories of listening to and discussing her 2015 album Blood just moments after its release.

We half-heartedly searched to see if she had any tours planned, thinking that maybe, just maybe, the stars would align and we’d be able to see her. And, just like that, we discovered that she would be at New York City’s Webster Hall on September 6. We quickly exchanged excited iMessages, and within mere minutes we had both purchased our General Admission tickets for an experience we had dreamt of for years. We didn’t consider the logistics — the fact that school would be in full swing by then, or that we would need to figure out transportation and a place to stay for the night of the concert. Instead, we impulsively jumped on the chance, recognizing that if we were determined enough, we just might be able to make it work.

Last week, we did just that. We skipped our 1:00 p.m. pilates class, hopped in a car and journeyed off to the city for a night of angelic vocals and soothing strings. We managed to find a friend willing to host us for the evening, miraculously found parking on the busy streets of the Lower East Side and eagerly awaited the concert. We arrived for the tail end of the opener, Jesse Boykins III’s, set, knowing who our priority was. The hall was filled with 20-30 year olds, calm and composed, sipping drinks and moving ever so gently to the stylings of Boykins. It may have been the single most tranquil crowd I’ve ever experienced. As we scurried by, people graciously moved to accommodate us, allowing us to quickly slip in a row or two in front of the stage.

Lianne La Havas soon emerged on stage, dressed in a colorful jumpsuit, eyes glittering, smiling endlessly. I immediately remembered all of her live videos I had watched over the years, hearing her soft British accent as she addressed her crowd with such affection and delight. She truly looked thrilled to perform for all of us, and my friend and I were immediately enchanted. For the two hours that followed, we danced and sang along to nearly every song in her set, remembering the words as easily as our own names. She brought with her a band to be reckoned with, including a violinist, a back-up vocalist who harmonized seamlessly with La Havas, as well as a talented guitarist, bassist and drummer. As expected, La Havas served as the lead guitarist, playing complex chords and arpeggios with the utmost grace and precision.

We listened, eyes closing as she belted notes with such clarity and control. She performed a mix of tracks from her first and second albums, even offering “Fairytale,” an exclusive, acoustic song off of her 2016 EP, Blood Solo. She impressed us with her immense musicality — switching guitars and songs with a smile. Perhaps one of my favorite moments was when she sang a stripped-down cover of “I Say a Little Prayer,” an Aretha Franklin original. Very few people can do Franklin justice, but La Havas gave an interpretation that maintained her personal style while staying true to the power and potency of the original. Her cover, as we later discovered, has been available on Spotify since mid-August, and I’ve had it on repeat since hearing it live.

While we may have been the only people singing and dancing to Lianne La Havas that night, my friend and I had the time of our lives listening to an artist we had adored for years. La Havas infused her songs with new intricacies, showing tremendous love for the music she created and the crowd before her. And while it took us many hours to get to and from the city, and we spent the night on floors and couches, my friend and I both agreed that it was worth all of this and more to see Lianne La Havas live. We’d easily do it all over again if we got the chance.

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aa567@cornell.edu. 

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