Michael Kiwanuka’s third, eponymously titled album release was regarded as one of the best in a decade. That’s the previous decade. The musical landscape B.C. The tour was scheduled for early 2020 and when these dates were inevitably cancelled, 2021 shows were optimistically put in place. These came and went and here we are, two and a half years after the album was released and finally the Londoner gets to perform in Manchester. Boy does he deliver!
Emerging from the darkness is an apt way to open proceedings. The tone is sombre, the inky blue lighting enhancing the aesthetic as the strains of ‘Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)’ are complimented by Kiwanuka’s rich vocals. “We love you Michael!” shouts a fan on the front rail and a small smile breaks the mood before he straps on the Gibson SG and the 70s vibe of ‘One More Night’, the hip ‘You Ain’t the Problem’ and ‘Rolling’s’ slice of the sixties get the crowd moving, ably assisted by the slickest of bands along with the vital backing vocals duo.
It’s certainly an evening to appreciate how good Kiwanuka really is. The album is pretty much performed in full and the raft of influences, inspirations and personal inflections spill out amidst the choicest cuts from Love and Hate, and there’s a five or six song stretch prior to the encore that is pretty much as good as it gets.
‘Hero’ is a collective masterclass and the soaring guitar solo at the song’s conclusion demonstrates the unity of the band Kiwanuka has established here. ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’s’ Morricone characteristics are thrilling, the bone shaking clangour of the guitar sounds amazing in the Apollo’s vast chamber; the opera of the vocals completes the picture but this is quickly replaced by the acoustic tenderness of Home Again‘s ‘Rest’. Initially, the crowd’s failure to hush and allow the song to breathe is frustrating, but the fragility of the moment causes the talkers to quit.
‘Light’ is a bit more demanding but the glorious yet sombre rhythms of ‘Final Days’ emerge along with his penchant for those Morricone flourishes, particularly the way the song combines soaring vocal harmonies as a melodic instrument in itself, combining in thrilling and emotive fashion with the violent guitar and the fragile keys. The combination in intoxicating.
The best is still to come though. A five song encore has it all; a warm, life-giving performance of ‘Home Again’ is ably backed by most of the audience on vocals, ‘Cold Little Heart’ is as cool as it ever was, even in it’s radio-edit format but it is outdone by album mate ‘Love and Hate’ which allows for a multitude of emotions amidst a loving audience that have waited nearly three years to celebrate this glorious return to the stage for Michael Kiwanuka.