The Time I Cried at a Lianne La Havas Show

Photo courtesy of Darro Chea

I’ve always had a tough time going to concerts. Beyond my struggles to swallow my pride and give credit where it is due, I feel out of place in the audience. I don’t sway with the crowd, and I feel more self-conscious about myself in the audience than I do on stage. So when I finally get around to attending a show, it's a big deal for me personally.

In the fall of 2016, I was attending grad school in Spain. I was studying Contemporary Performance at Berklee College of Music, and some classmates were taking a weekend trip to Barcelona to see Lianne La Havas. I hadn’t heard her music before, but everyone in my class was raving about her, and I thought I might as well go, more so to bond with my classmates than to see her perform.

You see, I had a hard time connecting with my classmates. I constantly felt like I didn’t fit in, and that I was struggling so much more than everyone else. I didn’t know it at the time but I was battling a brain tumor this whole year, and it was severely affecting my moods (and still is). Because of the havoc the tumor wreaked on my body and hormones, I was essentially in a high state of anxiety and fight or flight. Combine that with being in a foreign country, the stress of being a musician and in grad school, and you get a recipe for depression and mental instability.

I was also extremely jaded about music by this point too. Going to music school turns music into work, and it was tough trying to separate the joy of music and the tediousness of work. It all started to blur together to where I was exhausted of music and sometimes hardly enjoyed music at all.

Anyway, after being a tourist for a few days in Barcelona, the night of the show arrived and everyone was so excited. I still didn’t see what all the fuss was about but I already paid the ticket, traveled to Barcelona, and I wanted to fit in, so I stuck it out with them. We entered the venue and I immediately felt like I was in a Broadway theater. The architecture was grandeur with blood red curtains, fancy cushioned theater seats and gold railings. And there was a lot of people, packed to the brim.

We made our way to our seats where we had a perfect view of the stage. All I see on stage are two small guitar amps (Mesa Boogie Mark V 35 Combos), two guitars (couldn’t make the models but definitely hollow bodies), a microphone stand, and a table with a couple of water bottles. No drum set, no bass amps, not even a tambourine. I figured the rest of the band would eventually come out.

Lianne made her way out on stage and addresses the audience. She spoke in such an elegant and smokey British accent; it was smooth, like chocolate and velvet for my ears. The audience cheered in response to her introduction and I cheered along to be a good sport, but I had no idea what I was in for when she started her first song.

She played completely solo on her guitar, strumming complex rhythmic patterns and jazz-inspired chords with tensions and pedal-tones. After properly establishing her groove, she started singing and I was absolutely floored. Stunned. She sang so effortlessly and freely it felt like she had been singing before she learned how to walk. The edges of her voice were crisp and slightly rasp, while the center of her vocal tone was thick and smooth, her vibrato rose perfectly sharp and flat, completely in sync with her guitar playing. I consider myself a really good musician, I even got a master’s degree in it. But what she did on that stage transcended any training a person could receive. Lianne La Havas has a soul made of pure music.

No band ever came out to support her. No extra instruments, no backup vocalists, or anything of the sort. She changed guitars maybe once or twice. She was completely alone, standing essentially still in one spot for the duration of the show, and for the duration of the show she had the entire audience in the palm of her hand.

I cried during that concert. I don’t remember when it started or when it stopped. Chalk it up to hormones, pent-up emotions, stress, anxiety or brain-tumor chaos, but Lianne’s music cut through my wall of depression and connected to me in a way that I hadn’t been connected to music for years. It completely brought me back to my love of music and how powerful it is to connect with people, in ways that ordinary words cannot. That was one defining moment that inspired me to get back to songwriting and making my own music. I no longer wanted to be just a guitarist for other artists, but I wanted to find my own voice, and connect with people through my own experiences.