Michael Kiwanuka - The Ritz, Manchester 15/05/2012
By: Rob Gannon
It still raises a smile that Michael Kiwanuka won the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, because tonight his aural massage is so far from cutting edge that The Ritz is transported to a time when punk wouldn’t even yet have been a glimmer in Malcolm McLaren’s eye.
Kiwanuka is undeniably on a resolutely upward trajectory, a path that has seen him taking in time as a busker, a session guitarist for the producer Labrinth, the BBC award and last year’s much-coveted support slot for megastar Adele. Understandably therefore the retro-soul man is starting to exude the self-belief he still claims not to hold. He may not be an out-an-out showman yet but the seeds have been sown. He’s unafraid, for example, to engage in a little banter with the crowd nor hold centre stage and the audience’s attention as the majority oblige his embracing sound, reciprocating with their swaying partners.
He’s as comfortable too stripping back the show to a solo singer-songwriter performance as he is leading the unobtrusive touring band in some jazz-lite funk. There are few real surprises to be had in truth tonight; Kiwanuka is note perfect, his voice like honey amid the pink-and-yellow-coloured searchlights, the band a very convincing lounge act for some never-ending Sunday morning. The flecked blues of the electric guitar add tears to the performance, the community in the extended, clap-along Bill Withers jam “I Just Don’t Know” a little sense of gospel roots, but there’s more than enough of Kiwanuka shining through it all to make the show his own.