Published Sep 08, 2013There were definitely more than "a handful" as Laura Mvula says jokingly the first time she played a Canadian date — I was at that intimately packed show at Toronto's Drake Hotel — tonight sees her return show at a larger venue and bigger crowd. It's a good look for the 25-year-old UK singer-songwriter and pianist: her calmly effervescent debut Sing to the Moon (with its rich jazz, soul, pop and gospel elements) is still deserving of the critical plaudits it got when it made its North American debut earlier this year.
Her six-piece band are still the same, two-sixths of which is still a family affair (brother James and sister Dionne on cello and violin respectively) and her warm-hearted "aw shucks, you all are here for me?" demeanour hasn't worn thin. I'm the sort to prefer "album-perfect" live versions of artistry and Mvula is definitely a proponent of such. Her understated voice — with that unique vocal pitch and unorthodox phrasing — sounds on point in a live context, kicking off the short 45-minute set with "Like the Morning Dew" and "Flying Without You" and current single "She." Mvula will tell you herself that she's not a vocal powerhouse, but nonetheless her brassy texture intrigues and draws listeners in.
"Is it okay if we sing together?" she asks the full house, launching into the call-and-response of "Is There Anybody Out There?," which then energetically segues into the Bob Marley standard "One Love." "I'm a melancholy soul. Don't laugh," she says playfully, before launching into organ-only versions of "Diamonds" and "Father Father."
Joyful claps start up as catchy album singles "Green Garden" and "That's Alright" wind things down, with the orchestral encore ("Make Me Lovely") closing it out. Soaking in the night's energy, it was one of those "you had to be there" concerts with the feeling that it's one of the last times one will catch Mvula playing in a venue that's not an arena.