Under the proscenium arch of Islington’s Assembly Hall wasn’t where Laura Mvula was meant to play on Thursday night. She’d sold out Village Underground in all its clubby, condensation-drenched glory, a fitting venue for Mvula’s new sound which is as dank and dripping in dancefloor sweat as the Shoreditch venue on a Saturday night. But a fire meant a hasty relocation and instead she took to a heavy wooden stage under heraldry that reads ‘deus per omnia’: in God we trust.
Well, no offence to God, but she might have been outdone tonight. Mvula’s blistering show was an hour of pure brilliance - that’s without even taking her white suit into account, which was something like a bedazzled Coco Chanel with shoulderpads that were simply not messing around. You don’t often see someone manage to make a bright pink keytar look cool, but Mvula pulls it off. The enormous 80s gadget just about dwarfs her, just slightly hindering her movements and leaving most of her dancing to a series of increasingly impressive squats - drop the workout video Laura, we’re ready.
There was no time for chitchat as she thundered into Safe Passage, the full band valiantly trying to match the sheer power of her voice. Conditional is all snatched vowels and Jackson-esque yowls, and as she sings the line “I need love” she opens her arms to us and we feel it, that need, that love, that pull. It’s a powerfully honest moment in an evening that’s full of capital-M Moments.
It sounds trite to say it but Mvula’s voice is a genuine powerhouse, shaking the metaphorical rafters without any need for theatrics. You get the sense that she’d sound just as incredible in front of her bedroom mirror as she does in front of this crowd, who hang on her every syllable with a kind of hunger. You don’t witness presence like that very often and I know this comparison has been made to death, but she genuinely reminds me of Grace Jones (although with less hula-hooping).
Most of the set is focused on Mvula’s recent album, Pink Noise - it was a musical departure for her and that huge 80s groove suits her so fantastically; it feels like watching some kind of rebirth. She’s sultry one minute, vulnerable and open the next, always with a shimmy and a wink. Laura Mvula found her voice on that record, but in Islington this week she truly seems to have found her stride.