One of 2012’s big hype stars, Michael Kiwanuka plays to a sellout Kazimier crowd, Getintothis’ Sean Bradbury finds a star waiting to burst into life.
Hype works in mysterious ways. Every single person at last Sunday’s sell-out Kazimier gig was ready and waiting to believe in the buzz surrounding Michael Kiwanuka. Except, for most of the time it seemed, Michael Kiwanuka himself.
The timeless purity of his voice – first tender, then powerful, always rich – was evident on the finger-picked shuffle of Home Again, on the laid-back groove of Rest and later when the spotlight fell on him alone to perform I Won’t Lie with just his guitar for company.
On the strength of what Getintothis had heard before we were expecting to spend the whole evening enchanted by songs as good as this, but swathes of the gig were spent waiting – to no avail – for the magic to take hold.
Part of the problem was the band set-up. Whether by accident or design, much of the delivery was overly rhythmic with no instrument willing to take the lead – including, crucially, Kiwanuka through the microphone.
What first captivated were the smoky flute lines that fluttered between the vocal melodies on the stunning version of Tell Me A Tale seen on Jools Holland last year.
Yet here the track was played as an extended jam, with a lot of chords strummed, chopped and plunked, ultimately laying a platform on which nothing was built. A dose of heavy reverb on the seemingly constricted range of Kiwanuka‘s voice did little to propel it forward.
Worry Walks Beside Me was the stand-out exception that proved the rule, with Kiwanuka bursting out of his comfort zone to refreshing effect, broadening his vocal range and dynamics, and allowing his right-hand man to chop out a suitably soulful guitar solo for some variation and musical breathing space.
The caveats, of course, are huge. This is a 24-year-old performer who is yet to release his debut album; who is still honing his live sound and gaining the requisite experience and confidence to command an audience.
That his set finished with two covers was perhaps no surprise.
Yet on these numbers, be it through familiarity or nerves being settled, all pressure was released. Bill Withers‘ I Don’t Know was delivered to a standard befitting of the original and luscious waves of funk washed over the room as Kiwanuka signed off with his take on Hendrix‘s Maybe There Is Love.
All the ingredients are there for Michael Kiwanuka. He just needs to believe in his own hype, let his band play – and bring back that flute.