Michael Kiwanuka

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Way back in March, just after I had started writing music reviews on a freelance basis, my Muso friend Paul said: "You've got to go and see Michael Kiwanuka in October, you'll love this guy".  So I asked someone at Small City to arrange tickets then promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward six months and I was speed walking around from the Small City Offices where I had just finished a shift, hurrying to meet my friends for some pre-gig libations. Suddenly, at the rear of the Concert Hall, I spotted a caravan of tour buses and articulated lorries.  "Wow, it looks like this Kiwanuka guy really means business,"  I thought to myself.  Before Kiwanuka, however, we had female singer-songwriter Bedouine to look forward to, but before even that a nice tall glass of Ossian beer.  Friends, good music and a tasty golden brew, there are definitely worst ways to start an evening.

it was like being wrapped up in your favourite vinyl like a duvetBedouine, real name Azniv Korkejian took to the stage in a flowing turquoise gown and filled the auditorium with the lovely warm sound of her guitar and voice.  Azniv was born in Aleppo to Armenian parents, lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, moved to America when her family won a green card lottery, and eventually settled in Los Angeles.  I'm slightly obsessed with Californian music of the late 60's and 70's and the Laurel Canyon scene in particular; I've devoured music biographies about Neil Young, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell and their contemporaries and sitting in Perthshire listening to Bedouine felt like having that time and place brought to life. 

From the first song 'You Kill Me' she had us all entranced and although her music is (at least for me) very evocative of a particular time and place (weirdly a time and place I've never even experienced) her voice is all her own.  Something about the way she sassed the line "honey babe you kill me" really made the performance a bit special.  'Solitary Daughter' is another stand-out track and I marvelled at the warm sound Azniv managed to produce, it was like being wrapped up in a duvet of your favourite vinyl. The fact that her final song 'One of These Days' shares a title with a song by Neil Young really sealed the deal.  I mean it's probably a complete coincidence but I got a big kick out of it nonetheless.

During the interval, we wrestled with the usual concert hall dilemma; whether to use the men's room first while it was quiet to then be faced with a queue at the bar or vice versa.  First World problems I know - I think that faint sound you can hear is the world's smallest violin playing just for me.  It's safe to say that I was not the only one who enjoyed the first half, as when I found my friend Ian in the lobby he was buying a CD off none other than Bedouine herself.  We spoke for a while and she told us that we were in for a treat as she had been playing on all Michael's recent dates and that he was something special.

We took our seats just in time to see Kiwanuka and his band take the stage, The effect was powerful, simultaneously both smooth and substantial.as they walked on and picked up their instruments one by one,  adding to the laid-back groove of 'Place I Belong'.  The song began slowly, with just keys, bass, minimal percussion and Michael's guitar and voice.  The arrangement gradually built to epic proportions and took on the quality of a 70's Curtis Mayfield recording.  The effect was powerful, simultaneously both smooth and substantial.

It was on songs 'One More Night' and 'Tell Me a Tale' that the quality of the band really began to shine through.  These guys were beyond funky and musically they were so tight that you would've struggled to insert a cigarette paper between them.  I was also starting to see why there were so many big vehicles parked around the back of the concert hall.  Not only was it a really big band (I counted 11 people on stage including Kiwanuka) but it was one of the best and biggest light shows that I had ever seen in Perth.  A plethora of Dreamcatcher shaped orange lights formed a burning oval above the stage and when a chorus kicked in we were treated to a burst of brightness that allowed your intrepid correspondent to quickly take some notes.  

The next section of the show brought some real fan favourites.  First up was the incredibly catchy 'Black Man' which had echoes of James Brown and The Impressions 'We're a Winner'.  This was soon followed by perhaps Kiwanuka's best-known song 'Home Again', which you'll no doubt have heard on the HSBC Mortgage adverts.  It was a lovely change of pace and showed off Michael's more delicate side with some lovely fingerpicking and a yearning vocal.  On 'Final Frame', Michael got to set aside his delicate side for a moment letting loose with some lovely fuzzy lead before letting his guitarist take an epic solo.

'Fathers Child' found Kiwanuka in his finest voice of the evening so far (which is really saying something) as his voice soared bolstered by his two excellent backing singers.  As the song reached a conclusion the band started to leave the stage (just as they arrived) one by one.  My girlfriend Jo and I had a £2 wager on who would be the last to leave the stage.  Jo's money was on the keyboard player whereas I was sure the drummer would be the last man standing.  A couple of minutes later and low and behold the only two musicians left on the stage were the drummer and keys player.  The tension in the Concert Hall couldn't have been higher.  When the drummer put down his sticks and left the stage you could hear me muttering faint obscenities under my breathe.

My foul mood at losing £2 was soon forgotten when from my seat in the balcony I spied my friend Catriona and her friend Khaleda dancing their asses off in the third row.  I wasn't surprised as it was is an epic encore, a one-two punch of 'Cold-Little Heart' and 'Love and Hate' that left the appreciative Perth audience wanting more.

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