Royal Albert Hall
Bear with me, I’m still shaking. Sometimes there are gigs that are just OK, sometimes they can be good, sometimes even great. Occasionally, just occasionally there comes one that is an epiphany. Dawes at Shrewsbury Folk was my last. This was another. And sure, the setting helps, but the assuredness with which Kiwanuka and band owned the venue was nothing short of stunning. Let’s skip the lacklustre and muddy sounding support. Knowing from umpteen reviews and youtubes how it would start, that anticipation and excitement was palpable. We were in the choir seats, behind the band, with a fabulous view of the stage being set. Bank of keyboards (5), drum kit, adjacent percussion kit, mini stage for backing vocals, mini stage for strings. Lights down. The strings and keyboards start and play the familiar opening to Cold Cold Heart, a cheer as a shadowy figure slopes on and hangs on his guitar for that perfect lick. As the song progresses so too are the rest of the band arriving, with, a nice touch, a bevy of teenage girls: some sort of choir, to add their swell to the orchestration of this 12 minute opener. Who was it here that mocked the ability of music to make one weep? Well, friend, I was. From thereon it was and remained consummate. Mainly the recent album, hell, all of it, a smattering of songs, 2 or 3 from the first, sounder with the grandiose arrangements. Black Man in a White World, something he certainly seemed to be tonight, perhaps a dozen people of colour in the audience, made complete sense, more so than on the record, getting an extensive and percussion heavy work-out. Most of the songs had just enough live tweak to differentiate them, not much, but enough, from the record and it was the aforementioned drummers and the sturdy bass that held the honours. Saying little between numbers, beyond band introductions and apologising to his mum, present tonight, for dropping out of uni, Kiwanukas voice was magisterial and captivating. All too quickly, just over an hour it was over, the last song having a drawn out instrumental fade, with first Kiwanuka leaving the stage, each then peeling off until only the lone keyboard player was there, with an elegant electric piano motif, repeating and slowing to eventual pin drop. Frenzy ensued, a return to the stage for 2 final numbers, with Love and Hate the inevitable and obvious closer, again strung out to showcase the skills of the band, Kiwanuka thrashing away on acoustic like Richie Havens reborn, the extravagantly maned second guitarist making shapes in apparent extremis, bringing all sorts of squeals from his instrument. Enough. Exhausted. Fabulous.
Very white, middle class and, frankly, middle aged. I was expecting to be at the elder end of the spectrum but no, many a couple present with up to a decade on me. Having said, the moshpit, despite constant proffering of drinks from the roadies, and remaining very well behaved, were a little younger, late 20s to 30s.
It made me think..
Why is his appeal so contrary? OK, the undoubted classic rock of his guitar and keyboard based songs is maybe the main reason: the Floydian nature of some of the melody lines, but his voice is hewed from the bedrock of classic soul, echoes of Marvin Gaye and, not just for the strumming guitar, Richie Havens. Who cares? I wonder if Michael does.