Michael Kiwanuka and his band took to the stage of a sold-out Royale in Boston on Tuesday, February 11th, breaking the darkness with the moody and pulsing “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)”. It was clear from the outset that this crowd was on side, with many adoring looks to be seen in his direction. What followed was a solid hour and forty minute set leaning heavily on his critically lauded, late 2019, eponymously titled third album. This has seen his sound evolve to incorporate more subtle jazz influences into his signature hybrid of melodic retro-tinged twilight soul. Having gained the attention of a wider audience around 2012, he continues to get better with time.
Backed by a six-piece band, including two great female harmony and backing singers, the sound was as full and lush as you could have hoped for. Silhouetted in a golden spotlight, he sang the acoustic intro to “Hero” before the band kicked in full electric, animating the stunning art deco ballroom that is arguably the best standing room venue in Boston. Up next was 2012 gem “Tell Me A Tale”, which at the time of release belied songwriting maturity well beyond his years. Granted that the vibe with Kiwanuka tends to veer to the mellower side of things, he and his band are not shy about driving songs in a more robust rock direction too. Soon after, the audience erupted once more to approve the vintage Atlantic soul feel of “Living In Denial”.
The four-song encore kicked off with “Hard To Say Goodbye”, which evoked the richness of late ‘60s Scott Walker and Jacques Brel with some spy movie fuzz guitar thrown in to give it that cinematic feel. With his warm and humble persona, the 32-year-old Londoner was in fine voice and very gracious for the warm welcome Boston gave him. The evening drew to a close with another early breakthrough hit, “Home Again”, which was followed by the most enthusiastically received song of the night, “Cold Little Heart”. Kiwanuka is definitely an artist hitting his stride right now and I expect his next U.S. tour will see him sell out a much larger venue across the street. Catch him in a more intimate setting while you can.