Review: Michael Kiwanuka enchants at the Royal Albert Hall

Michael Kiwanuka enters a stage as it fills with yellow-lit smoke.

The Royal Albert Hall is filled with the sound of atmospheric strings of the extended intro to opening song Cold Little Heart — it is a beautiful start to what will unfold in to a sublime concert.

Kiwanuka’s humility and pure joy at playing the iconic venue shine throughout.

He tells the audience early on, and several times after, that he is not blanking us, he just doesn’t have many cool things to say.

The crowd obviously forgive him his lack of stage chat, and are enraptured and enthusiastic throughout.

Michael Kiwanuka at the Royal Albert Hall

© Andy Paradise

Black Man in a White World sees the whole crowd join in the handclaps which start and end the song, and sounds fantastic in the high-domed Hall, which still manages to feel intimate.

Kiwanuka’s band and backing singers are obviously of immense talent but there are moments when the sound is muddied, and we can hear the beat of the drums and percussion bounce back from the distant heights of the ceiling.

Probably because of this, the highlights of the set are the more stripped-back, mellow tracks from Kiwanuka’s first album, the Mercury-prize nominated Home Again. I’m Getting Ready brings the warmth and beauty of that album to life onstage, and is as warmly received by the crowd.

It is followed by Rest, which the singer admits is one of his favourites to sing.

© Andy Paradise

He explains how he began writing songs for fun when he dropped out of uni — apologising to his mum who is in the audience on the night, and prompting a big cheer from the audience — and now has ended up with this really cool job where he gets to play at the Royal Albert Hall.

Tonight’s rendition, played by just him and his bass player, is poignant and stunning, and it’s clear why it’s his favourite.

During The Final Frame, the audience standing downstairs begin to sway to the music and then, all too soon, Kiwanuka is telling us that although he doesn’t want the evening to end, it has to sometime.

Closing his set with Father’s Child feels fitting, with its huge, religious-toned backing vocals and retro lights flashing in time as the songs builds to a glorious crescendo.

Michael Kiwanuka

© Andy Paradise

The crowd howl for an encore, and Kiwanuka and band return to the stage for Home Again to great applause.

When he tells us the next will be his last song because he literally doesn’t have anymore songs to play, we know it’s not true and would love more from the first album.

But the crowd are on their feet, mobile phone torches shining, everyone is dancing for Love and Hate and we are all still humming the catchy refrain as we stream out of the building.

The demons and self-doubt Kiwanuka expresses in the song’s lyrics are not at all apparent in this inspired and (despite his claims) very, very cool performance.

Featured image courtesy of Andy Paradise, with thanks.

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