Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Michael Kiwanuka, Manchester Ritz

Right now there is a buzz around Michael Kiwanuka. A North Londoner in his late twenties he is promoting his second album released in the summer to critical acclaim. Twice nominated for the Mercury prize, life should be looking up for this accomplished guitarist and soulful singer-songwriter. Manchester Ritz, with a 1500 hundred capacity, is the final show of the UK leg. It is a sell-out and it is buzzing.

Shortly after 8pm a lone keyboard player, bathed in blue, strikes up the intro to the lengthy opening track on the new album. After a few minutes of ambient mood setting, he is joined by Kiwanuka who proceeds to play an exquisite slide guitar solo: languid, mellifluous and evocative of any number of Pink Floyd soundtracks. Quite some time elapses before the pair are augmented by bass, guitar, drums and a percussionist.

Michael Kiwanuka, Manchester Ritz

‘Cold Little Heart’ is an auspicious start to the show as it is to the album and promises much. Unlike the album, which tends to sameness toward the final third, tonight’s show is kept upbeat and varied with three choice cuts from the 2012 debut notably ‘Tell Me A Tale’. Quite different from the studio version this is elongated and energised by extensive riffing on the acoustic guitar. Good fun and a welcome change of tone before Kiwanuka returns to the mournful minor chords of ‘Falling’.

The handclaps announcing ‘Black Man In A White World’ are instantly recognised by a substantial segment of the crowd and actually gets three or four of them dancing on the tables. Given that tonight’s audience is almost entirely Caucasian one can only empathise with the singer’s situation. The drums bolstered by Graham Godfrey’s percussion drive the track along given it a sprightly momentum.

Michael Kiwanuka, Manchester Ritz

The final number ‘Father’s Child’ showcases Michael’s fine voice with welcome shades of Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes. With no string section or back-up singers it lacks the lushness of the studio version but nonetheless works just fine. The band members exit the stage one by one leaving just the keyboardist in a kind of blue spotlight as we recall the beginning.

Two encores: a cover of Prince’s poignant ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ (perhaps inspired by D’Angelo’s version?) and the more rousing title track ‘Love & Hate’ bring the show to a close and it is not even 10pm.

Michael Kiwanuka, Ritz Manchester

An enjoyable if low key evening of tasteful ballads, honeyed vocals and the occasional flash of some great guitar playing but if you came to dance then this wasn’t for you.

Setlist: Cold Little Heart; One More Night; Tell Me a Tale; Falling; Black Man In a White World; I’m Getting Ready; Bones; Rule The World; The Final Frame; Father’s Child; Sometimes it Snows in April; Love & Hate.

Support for Michael Kiwanuka came from London based Singer-Songwriter Isaac Gracie.

Isaac Gracie, Manchester Ritz

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