Following an extensive 18-date headline tour of North America through January and February, the current King of Soul, Michael Kiwanuka, arrived back in the UK for a sold-out ten-date tour of his homeland. The show in Bournemouth at the O2 Academy was the third night, following shows in Birmingham and Southampton, but unfortunately could be the last for a little while, as the 32-year old left the stage just after halfway through his set to retire after starting to lose his voice.
The evening had begun with the air full of anticipation as the sold out crowd crammed into the picturesque O2 Academy, ramming the floor full and populating both balconies to the brim. A cool breeze from the air conditioning did little to counter the heat as bodies upon bodies huddled together, brushing past one another to get the best view possible of one of the world’s hottest artists. With Celeste dropping out of supporting duties for the tour, it was down to last-minute fill-in Tawiah to set the mood for a night of groove and soul. The London-based alt- and Neo-soulstress was not put off from the constant murmurings from the floor, trailblazing through a passionate set filled with gems from her debut record, Starts Again.
Then, upon the nine o’clock chimes, the lights fell and the volume turned up as the bass and drums, alongside the trickling of delicate keys, of Thee Oh Sees ‘Sticky Hulks’ filled the air, and only then, after a couple of minutes of pure instrumental, could the silhouettes of the band and Kiwanuka himself be seen gracing their way across the stage and into position.
Opening the evening with the haunting ‘Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love)’, there was no initial sign of any struggle vocally, with Kiwanuka proving he is just as impressive in a live setting as he is on record. His showmanship then showed colour as he dove straight into ‘One More Night’ from 2016’s Love & Hate, with a distinct Seventies feel from the lighting setup, with disco lighting flickering bright, with a gargantuan disco ball lightly spinning in the background. However, as much as the lighting setup up was impressive, it was not over the top, instead accentuating the performance rather than creating a spectacle.
The London-raised soul-man then returned to last year’s critically acclaimed, self-titled record, Kiwanuka, the third of his career, and the one that is likely to elevate him into the upper-echelons of the music industry over next 12 months or so, to continue the feel-good vibrations with the first three tracks off the album. Despite an ever-so slight huskiness to his voice not detected on record, at this point there was still no sign that he was struggling on stage, instead it appeared to be quite the opposite as the band, inclusive of two incredible backing vocalists, and those in attendance, started to build a bond, moving in a synchronised bop across all three floors of the venue. The third of those three tracks, ‘I’ve Been Dazed’, then helped to bring the tempo down to a gentle sway, before moving into the emotive crowd-favourite that is ‘Black Man In A White World’.
The track, from the aforementioned Love & Hate record, depicts the personal experiences of the artist within the industry in which he resides. Those at the O2 Academy, ironically, stood watching, enjoying his performance, most of which was conducted with his eyes shut, personifying the music and lyrics being played to them, with only a smattering of black faces engulfed amongst a sea of white.
We were then treated to two more tracks, in the form of ‘Rule The World’ and his latest single from Kiwanuka, ‘Hero’, before the first couple of notes of ‘Tell Me A Tale’ became a step too far. Abruptly stopping the track, Michael addressed the crowd with an apology before proclaiming he needed five minutes, leaving the stage with his band in tow, before the band returned moments later to inform everyone that he would not be returning, having faced a battle with his voice over the first couple of dates.
Michael Kiwanuka is a generational talent; there is a clear and distinct possibility that he goes down as one of the greatest artists of our time. There may not be many further opportunities to watch him hone his craft in a setting as intimate as that of an O2 Academy for much longer as his star only continues its ascension into the stratosphere. There is a reason why this man is spoken in the same breath as Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye, his music transcends the vast majority of anything else available in the industry today.
One can only hope that not only does the disappointment of his cut-short appearance in Bournemouth last night live short in the memory, but that his voice can recover in lightning fashion so that as many people as possible can witness his brilliance much sooner rather than later. I, for one, sincerely hope to be one of those people.
Michael Kiwanuka was playing at the O2 Academy in Bournemouth on Tuesday 3rd March.
Latest Release: ‘Hero’
Highlights: ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ – ‘I’ve Been Dazed’ – ‘Black Man In A White World’