Sloane Square received a busy influx of soulful music-seekers and bearded gig-goers on Wednesday night. Cadogan Hall, renowned West London music venue, saw fans stream in whilst support acts Rukhsana Merrise and Isaac Gracie were gearing up for Michael Kiwanuka’s headline performance, as part of his tour promoting his new album ‘Love & Hate’.

Rukhsana Merrise strolled on stage, letting her deep soulful vocals do the talking. Describing headliner Kiwanuka as a “fucking legend”, Merrise doesn’t fall shy of keeping things in. Her song ‘Too Hot’, about a break-up from 4 years ago, was as raw as it could get. With just a guitarist to her right and a drummer to her left, she kept a hyped audience entranced. Her cover of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ by the Weeknd was a great choice, and a clear crowd-pleaser. Merrise sent the audience on one last big warm-up with the release of her most recent single ‘Money’. As Merrise exited the stage she sealed it with a thumbs up, a peace sign, and a big grin.

As at most concerts, it’s an eclectic mix of gig-goers, from die-hard teenage fans, to happily married couples who’ve seen performances through the decades. The performance kicks off with just the keyboardist on stage, and slowly but surely the rest of the band including Kiwanuka trickle on to stage and seep into this instrumental intro, whilst a video is played in the back-drop.

Ironically, what stands out is that there are no big personalities on stage. The guitarist has his eyes closed most of the time, body facing Kiwanuka more than the audience, bobbing in unison to his impressive string talent. The keyboardist focuses heavily on his key strokes. Yet you still feel a strong stage presence. Kiwanuka continues to play through a couple more tracks from his new album, ‘Love & Hate’. A refreshing mix of folky Bill Withers soul.The pace quickens when ‘Black Man in a White World’, which was released just the day before, relishes in its urban soul musings.

We also got the chance to hear some of his older, more well-known pieces including ‘Tell Me a Tale’ and ‘I’m Getting Ready’. Some of his newer echo a Frankie Vallie touch, with soulful backing singers clapping away and belting punchy words. For the guitar-heads out there, there were several tracks where the solos were brilliant.

The final song ends with where his performance started, the keyboardist on his own on the stage.  The performance was well-orchestrated with the backing vocals, and smooth hand-over of guitars between songs for Kiwanakuna.  

Between tracks, Kiwanuka confesses that he’s not one to brag but Russell Crowe tweeted about him the other day. The only frustrating part, the North London native says, is that Crowe didn’t @mention him. Damn, could’ve had so many more followers! Other than that brief gloat, Kiwanuka remains a humble spirit, and praises his audience for what his “best London show ever”. The deal was sealed when after a two song encore there was a full-house standing ovation. You’d be a fool to stay sat down.

‘Love & Hate’ will be released on 27th May via Polydor Records.

This Michael Kiwanuka article was written by Fina Charleson, a GIGsoup contributor

Michael Kiwanuka - Cadogan Hall, London (30th March 2016) - LIVE REVIEW

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