The musical gods were certainly smiling down on me this past weekend, as three of my favorite voices all came to my home town in the space two days. I've already expressed my love for Lianne La Havas, Laura Mvula and Jessie Ware on these very pages, so when the dates were announced and I realized they coincided, there was no way I was going to miss out.
First up on Friday was Lianne, performing almost exactly 12 months after I first saw her live. To say she has grown as an artist would be a gross understatement. She was like a different woman as she walked out on stage, humble yet oozing a newfound confidence, to huge applause and an audience clearly eager to see her do her thing. Performing nearly every track from her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, Lianne had those in attendance eating out the palm of her hand as she unleashed the album's upbeat title track and fan favorites "Forget" and "Au Cinema," showcasing guitar skills clearly influenced by her new friend and fan Prince. However, it was on the more mellow material where Lianne really shone. "Gone" was spine-tinglingly emotional, and "Lost & Found" packs a real punch when Lianne can let loose vocally. New single "Elusive" and the beautiful "Everything Everything" were the real revelations, though, both being tracks I had overlooked when seeing her live previously and when listening to the album. Hearing them live gave me a sense of really hearing them for the first time, and both have been on repeat ever since. As she performed her final song and exited the stage there was a palpable sense of euphoria but also a little bit of discontent as I heard people mutter "but she didn't perform "Age"!," a fact I had completely overlooked so wrapped up was I in the rest of her performance. There were very vocal calls for an encore and, just when it looked like the lights would go up, Lianne obliged and gave a simple, yet stunning performance of "Age," which easily drew the biggest smiles of the night, especially when she switched up the "I fancy younger men" line to reflect the fact she was in Birmingham, delivering the line "I fancy Brummy men" to a huge cheer from the males in attendance. Now I'm just hoping that Lianne sees fit to record a "live" version of the album in its entirety. I'd gladly part with my cash all over again.
While Lianne and Jessie have become huge names over the last year or so, Laura Mvula is the newcomer in the pack. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, while performing what many may see as a niche brand of "orchestral soul," I wasn't sure that Laura would be a wise choice as an opening act for the more uptempo, achingly cool Jessie Ware. As she arrived on stage, clearly very nervous in front of a home crowd that included friends and family, the first thing that struck me was not Laura herself, although she is stunningly beautiful, but her backing band. Opening acts regularly get a bum deal in terms of what they can have up on stage for their five-song set, but Laura has clearly been given free reign, and it showed. Joining her on stage were her brother (on cello) and sister (on violin), as well as bass, drums, keys and a harpist. She kicked of her set with the breezy "Like The Morning Dew" and, while there were those in attendance who were clearly only interested in Ware, the majority of the audience stopped talking and took notice. With all those instruments on stage it would have been easy for Laura's voice to have been overwhelmed, but she possesses a voice so pure and strong that it cannot help but be the main attraction. Her first single "She" went down well, as did the title track from her Sing To The Moon LP, but everyone was waiting for "Green Garden" and she didn't disappoint, with the band temporarily laying down their instruments to perform the songs' insanely catchy hand-clap beat. I think it's safe to say that Laura gained a whole new army of fans right there and then. Seeing her perform live definitely cemented her place as one of my favorite artists to emerge this year, but I'm not convinced she will see the same level of success afforded to Lianne and Jessie. Her material might be a little too quirky for mainstream audiences, but she definitely matches them step-for-step in terms of talent. I guess time will tell.
Having seen Lianne previously, and only having recently become acquainted with Laura's music, Jessie Ware was the one I was most excited about seeing. Her debut album, Devotion, was in my top three of 2012, and I'd heard great reports about her live performances. She kicked proceedings off with the album's title track and, if I'm being honest, it was a little underwhelming. Being one of the more downtempo tracks from the album I thought she may have opened the show with something with a little more "oomph," however she soon found her footing and by the end of the song she had everyone's attention. I especially was eager for her to perform "Night Light" as it was one of my favorite cuts on the album, and she certainly didn't disappoint delivering one of her best vocals of the night on only her second song. "No To Love" and "Still Love Me" really got the party started, though, and "Sweet Talk" had just about everyone singing along. "If You're Never Gonna Move" (aka "110%"), Jessie's biggest UK hit to date, drew the biggest applause of the evening closely followed by "Wildest Moments," but my favorite performances all came towards the end of the show. First off Jessie decided to give the audience a preview of a new track she has worked on with Julio Bashmore, which we will be able to hear "soon." I didn't catch the title, but it's a full-on disco-stomper that is a great look for Jessie. She called on her drummer to help out on her Sampha collaboration and breakout song "Valentine," a song which everyone seemed to know the words to, and she took things down a notch to deliver a fantastic acoustic take on Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love." Of course, the show wouldn't have been complete without "Running," which Jessie used to close the night, and boy was it worth the wait. Conjuring up her inner-Sade, she performed her signature song with just the right balance of effortless cool and sultry sexiness, making it clear that she is in her element when she is up on stage and performing live.