In about a month, your mom is going to call you up and ask, “Have you heard of that Lianne La Havas?” Your dentist’s office is going to have the British soul singer’s lovely debut album, “Is Your Love Big Enough?,” playing in the background as you’re getting your teeth cleaned. People are going to start obsessively posting about her on Facebook. Let’s hope La Havas’s career can survive her being the latest thing, because she’s also the real thing.
The 23-year-old has received a crush of attention over the last year or so, from Prince, Stevie Wonder and mere mortals as well. She’s been likened to Adele, even though they don’t sound much alike — although she does have a clear, pure voice and a similarly irresistible genuine quality that makes you want to buy her album as well as befriend her. If La Havas must be put up against other Brit soul singers, she’s more like Corinne Bailey Rae without the cloying, or Sade minus the cool detachment.
“Is Your Love Big Enough?,” a mix of soul, folk, jazz and a thousand other things, was released in Britain last summer and has slowly, steadily gained notice in the United States, thanks to raw ballads such as “Lost & Found” (“You broke me and taught me to truly hate myself,” she sings), sexy bedroom songs such as “Au Cinema,” and our insatiable collective appetite for new British singers.
At the 9:30 Club on Friday night, La Havas played to a sold-out crowd that treated her like an established superstar rather than a new artist, other than the fact that some couldn’t pronounce her name (“I don’t think it’s ‘Li-ann,’ but ‘Li-Ahhnn’ ”).
She opened with “No Room for Doubt,” an indie folk duet with singer Willy Mason on the album, made into an acoustic solo piece for the live show. Without Mason and his preternaturally weathered voice, the song was lighter and airier — even with hundreds of people singing along.
“Who are you?” La Havas said at one point, wondering about the fans who’d filled the club, screamed her name and knew the words to all of her songs. “I’m playing it cool, but I’m very, very overwhelmed.”
As good as La Havas’s album is, she was even better live, in part because she was fueled by such enthusiastic concertgoers. During the spunky break-up song “Forget,” she invited everyone to sing, and shriek, along with her, and they obliged; with the title track, an uptempo number that’s all about La Havas’s guitar and her voice, the crowd participation lifted it from something small and sweet to a big, epic showstopper.
Even though her originals are amazing, La Havas is fond of covers, and some are better than others — a so-weird-it-works makeover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” trumped her new single, a reimagining of British folk-rock singer Scott Matthews’s “Elusive.”
When the crowd demanded an encore, La Havas and her band came back out and played a few more, including “Age,” a fresh little piece about fooling around with an older man. She would’ve stayed on stage all night, but for one small problem.
“I’ve reached my last song now because I’ve only thus far made one album,” La Havas said. “When I make a new album, I’ll come back.”
Godfrey is a freelance writer.