Have you ever discovered a song that you’re certain you’ve never heard before but, at the same, feels like something that you have loved as long as you can remember? 24-year-old British troubadour Michael Kiwanuka‘s debut album, Home Again, is chock full of gems like this, numbers that are best defined by the word “timeless.” His sound lies somewhere between the mellow soulfulness of Bill Withers and the plaintive, slightly melancholic sound of Nick Drake, and he turned up at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom for a sold-out show last night, just days removed from a successful appearance at Bonnaroo.
As anyone who has ever attended a concert in the Big Apple will attest, New York City audiences can sometimes be rather standoffish and easily distracted, filled with people standing with their arms crossed and “impress me” expressions on their faces. However, from the very moment that the opening chords of “Always Waiting” played through the sound system last night, the Adele-approved Michael Kiwanuka — he opened for her on tour in the U.K. last year — held the audience’s rapt attention. His music never quite veers into a groove that one would describe as uptempo, but don’t misconstrue the lack of a high BPM for something that’s boring. His voice is the kind that envelops you in a warm embrace, and his skilled backing band often extended songs that hover between three and four minutes on wax into six to eight minute epics, replete with jazzy, jammy sonic flourishes. And to that the richness of his lyrical content, a great deal of which involves pleas directed simultaneously towards both himself and a higher power (“Lord, I need loving” on “Tell Me A Tale”, “Oh Lord, I’m getting ready to believe” on “I’m Getting Ready”), and you have yourself all the ingredients for a mesmerizing and memorable evening.
Michael Kiwanuka may indeed be a brand new artist, but if last night’s moving performance was any indication, his career has a strong chance at being as timeless as his sound.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA – HIGHLINE BALLROOM (JUNE 13, 2012) SETLIST:
“Always Waiting” / “Tell Me A Tale” / “Worry Walks Beside Me” / “Bones” / “Waterfall” (Jimi Hendrix Cover) / “I’m Getting Ready” / “Rest” (Solo Acoustic) / “Any Day Will Do Fine” (Solo Acoustic) / “I Won’t Lie” (Solo Acoustic) / “Home Again” / “I’ll Get Along”
ENCORE: “I Just Don’t Know” (Bill Withers cover)