Michael Kiwanuka, who is here for Bluesfest 2017, caught the attention of music lovers after the release of his stellar sophomore album Love & Hate, released in 2016. Soul music is his speciality, and he does it impeccably — his show at Melbourne's Corner Hotel reaffirmed this.
Opening up the night was talented singer-songwriter, Ainslie Wills. She began her set with 'Sorry My Love', from her 2015 EP Oh the Gold. She also shared an anecdote about her uncle before launching into 'Consellations'. Next up, she played a few emotionally charged tracks, that she mentioned hadn't been released yet, but will be sometime this year. This included 'Running Second', a song about feeling second-best, something we can all relate to. She also played a recently penned track called 'Hidden Nerve', which was inspired by the awful feeling that overcame her when someone asked her a question she didn't feel comfortable answering. I'm not sure if this person was a journalist, but I felt drawn to this track. Sometimes as journalists, we forget that the artist we're interviewing is a human with emotions, and we can go too far. Like I said, I'm not sure if that's what it was about, but I could connect to this track from someone who is on the other side, and it's made me think deeply about how I approach my craft. She ended what was already a flawless set with 'Drive'.
When I initially saw that Michael Kiwanuka's set was running for an hour and a half, I pondered how many tracks he was going to play — it's usually a lengthy time to on-stage. However, never did the show drag out or ever feel boring. He ended up playing approximately 13 tracks. I've seen shows where an artist has crammed 10 songs within a 45-minute set, so for Kiwanuka to spend that amount of time on 13 was different (and refreshing). I'm certainly not complaining. The fact that he took his time performing meant he was pouring his heart and soul into each song, allowing the audience to smell the roses. This is exactly what punters want at a show, not rushed tracks and quick breaks.
Opening up with a lengthy instrumental performance ultimately set the scene for the night. The instrumental eventually led into 'Cold Little Heart'. It was only one track in, and I was standing there counting my lucky stars that I was about to witness one of the best gigs of the year.
A few tracks later, he played 'Black Man in a White World', a powerful track about race. The performance was one of the highlights from the night, and a favourite in the room — particularly evident from the rhythmic clapping that persisted from the crowd throughout. It's a stunning track, and it was an unforgettable moment to see it brought to life.
The upbeat energy took a sombre turn when he launched into 'I'll Never Love' — a track about being lonely, mainly because he's unable to love somebody as he's travelling and never in one place for very long. If I wasn't standing in a crowded room, I probably would have broken out into a few tears, it's a touching number — especially with words like, "The trouble song in the moonlight / will be my bride," and "I'll never hold somebody". I know I wasn't the only person overcome with emotions, looking around, many others felt it. Sometimes, the power of music is indescribable, even for us writers.
He then broke out into some of his older material from Home Again, including 'I'm Getting Ready' and the ever-so-beautiful 'Rest'. He then proceeded to play another older track, 'Tell Me a Tale', which was extremely popular with the crowd.
He closed up the intial part of his set with 'Father's Child', before returning to the stage to perform 'Home Again' and 'Love & Hate'.
The entire night was perfect. It's been a while since I've seen a show so aurally magnificent, that I didn't want to end. Music needs Michael Kiwanuka more than ever right now.
Michael Kiwanuka (with Ainslie Wills) | Corner Hotel | Melbourne | 17.04.17
Photographer: Kristy Smolcic