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Words and Photos: Shelly Bell

“We traveled quite a distance to get here. We’ve been on tour for quite sometime and this does not happen every night” smiled LianneLa Havas to her fans at the 9:30 Club on Friday. She was referring to a packed house of love-screaming, hand-waving, affinity-gazing fans. The air was a boomerang of adoration from the crowd to La Havas and it was full of fun, unsuspected, engaging moments throughout the night.

Opening the show was a group of slam poets from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Slam Nahautl. Slam Poetry, for those not in the know, is a for of literary competition wherein poets perform their original work and are judged by members of the audience and it’s rare to see poets opening for live music events such as this. However, Saidu Tejan-Thomas, Josh Brawastein and Rob Gibson rose to the occasion with a confident literary flair that successfully engaged hundreds of people who hadn’t planned on hearing poetry at the 9:30 Club. They performed relatable relevant material such as “PSA,” which broke pop culture and race into questionable pieces using hip-hop elements. It can be a challenge to “wow” a crowd expecting to have a few drinks and rock out to their favorite artist but Slam Nuhautl laid any negative preconceived notions about poetry or poetry slam to rest with a formidably notable performance.

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The energy shifted from literary to jam session when the tour’s supporting artist Jamie N Commons took the stage. I guess Jamie’s plan was to maximize his time on stage because he played through most of his set without taking even a moment to address the crowd. The comments from audience members were, “Who is this band?,” “I like them, but who are they?,” “Does anyone know who this is?,” “Wait, let me look up who this band is on Foursquare.”

Did they rock? Yes! Do I remember much about them? No! Watching Jamie N Commons was like watching a garage band jam session after tossing back a couple brews and finishing mom’s dinner roast. At the end of the set Commons finally mentioned that he was from London and thanked the crowd for rocking out with him. By this time it was more about the music than it was about who the band was that was actually playing, which made for a cool unsuspected vibe. Fans were there forLianne La Havas, yet not caring to hear poetry, nor not knowing the name of the supporting artist, but this didn’t hinder the cheering for art.

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Finally, the moment that fans had been anticipating; Lianne La Havas walked onstage in a long black dress with high split and platform shoes. Her band took position and the fan screaming was never-ending. Prior to attending the show I had heard and read rave reviews on all things Lianne La Havas. I watched several of her interviews online, listened to her track-by-track explanations on youtube, as well as viewed her official videos. My expectations were very high. Did she rock out? Yes! Was it the best she can do? No! I could tell she was very new to the stage as evidenced by the incoherence of herself and her band. There were a few times they were out of sync. In one instance everyone started singing background vocals before she was ready.

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During her title track “Is Your Love Big Enough,” she gathered the keyboardist and background singer in the middle of the stage to lead the crowd in an off-beat stomp and clap. It was poorly executed and the show could have done without it. I love her voice, however, though it seemed she strained it a little too much on some of the pieces and was a bit hoarse near the end of the show.

These are little kinks that will work themselves out over time. Fans will reflect on this show as nothing less than a feel good, lyrical blowout of fun. I agree with them wholeheartedly. A little amateur performance mess-ups are nothing compared to an artist that melts your heart away with serious lyrics and a giddy kid kind of aura. The things that are greatest about La Havas are her lyrics, humble organic feeling spirit, and her voice. Overall, her performance of her debut album “Is Your Love Big Enough” made for the night you will look back at years from now and say “remember when we saw Lianne La Havas at the 930 Club? Look at her now, a multi-platinum album selling beautiful performance genius!”

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