Heading to The Ritz on a damp Tuesday night makes me wonder if strappy wedges and a gust sensitive skirt are a good combo. The weather isn’t dampening the spirits of folks up for a piece of the recently touted Michael Kiwanuka appearing tonight. This one is an eagerly anticipated gig. He’s a spark on the horizon for British soul acts. Already getting glowing comparisons to Bill Withers and Otis Reading. Michael’s noticeable distinction to these greats is his quiet vibe.
With the band in action the sound is varied, soulful and jazzy with Michael’s voice adding a honeyed layer on top. His stage presence is understated. Not showman-ish or in a hurry to yak away but calm, reserved and fully aware of brilliantly crafted songs underneath.
Michael Kiwanuka is giving Manchester a big breath of fresh air. He’s got an instantly recognisable voice. He stands out from his singer-writer peers and also shows a nostalgic nod towards past Motown heroes. ‘Tell me a Tale’ hits us mid set as a nice surprise. Not one to bow down to ‘save the hit til the end’ attitude makes a refreshing change. The band come into their own on this song. Psychedelic and gorgeously dreamy, the arrangement of this radio familiar track adds a new dynamic to his biggest hit to date. His introduction “This song is about the greatest thing we can have…” helps the ladies swoon a bit more towards him.
The drummer plays off on a tangent and helps us hear something different with the familiar songs. Mr Kiwanuka’s risk taking tonight reinforces his natural talent and shows an assured choice of musicians he plays with. We get to see more of what he stands on when Michael announces, “ok it’s just me and my guitar now.” There’s a palpable hush in the room. We stay in tenterhooks territory with ‘Waterfall’ and as ‘I’m getting ready’ starts the crowd are getting more vocal with recognition. During this song you can hear a glass chink. That is until one rasta gent at the back breaks rank with a shout of “get your lighters out!” Eek Michael plays on, and it’s feeling like the audience are willing him on now. A couple more demands for “get your lighters out!” ignite a few tiny sparks at the back and when he hits the final note a burst of applause signals an agreed relief. There’s very much a warm vulnerability to him as a performer. Michael Kiwanuka is a beam of sunshine on a wet Tuesday at The Ritz. If tonight’s performance is anything to go by the forecast is looking good.