Review: Michael Kiwanuka (SWX Bristol) – 7/11/2019

No wonder so many of the venues on Kiwanuka’s tour are sold out well into 2020!

Michael Kiwanuka performed an acoustic show at SWX Bristol to celebrate his eponymous album released on Polydor records on the first of this month. It was the first performance on his highly anticipated tour. KIWANUKA is a soothing, soulful album that canvasses self-acceptance, inner resilience and identity. The album has a retro tone reminiscent of protest songs of the sixties and seventies. The music avoids feeling nostalgic, as the topics discussed are poignant and personal. American producer Danger Mouse worked closely with Kiwanuka twisting the classic sounds with modern nuances. The album is seamless and to be listened to in one sitting, a subtle protest against the modern way of consuming music. Kiwanuka is gently demanding the attention of his audience. Similarly, Kiwanuka’s humble stage presence creates hushes and appreciative focus.

Photo: Tourlife

Casually dressed, Michael Kiwanuka and his band open the set with “You ain’t the problem”, the punchy and vibrant first song on the album. Kiwanuka has a non-demanding stage presence. The setup is minimal and intimate, there is no spectacle or light shows and the audience move in to share the moment. He amiably recalls his experience of discovering that a band he loves has other albums and the joy of finding them in CD and record shops. He jests as he refers to this as his inspiration to make this third album and his hopes to make a fourth. The audience were encouraged to pre-buy his album with their ticket either as a record or CD, another imposition of old school listening.  Kiwanuka is centre stage but not dominating, his powerful supporting singers are stood in line with him equally illuminated. At some points the supporting singers take the limelight with their impressive vocals whilst Kiwanuka remains true to his poised and stripped back performance style.

In the middle of the set, the band depart the stage, leaving Kiwanuka vulnerable as he firstly sings “Piano Joint (This kind of Love)”, openly discussing his anxiety in this touching love song. He then introduces “Rest”, as tribute to the first time he’s ever written a soft, romantic and intimate song. A touching moment shared between Kiwanuka and the audience, as mist surrounds him and his guitar. The sound was of studio quality, a time for inward self-reflection for the audience, as they closed their eyes or stared into space transfixed by his mellow warm voice.

The set lasted an hour and once Kiwanuka left the stage, the audience demanded an unrequited encore; only leaving when the house lights turned on. This stripped-back personal performance left the audience deeply moved and excited to listen to records of the new album at home. There is no wonder so many of the venues on Kiwanuka’s tour are sold out well into 2020! Kiwanuka’s personal and political lyrics educate the audience without force or anger, as he performs in line with his values of respect and humanity.

Featured image: Tourlife

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