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The Wind and Rain Are No Match for the Soulful Michael Kiwanuka

September 19th, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka – Webster Hall – September 18, 2012


Throwback is the perfect definition for British soul artist Michael Kiwanuka, who has cited influences from Bill Withers to Otis Redding. His delicate guitar strums brightened a rather stormy Tuesday evening and for the Webster Hall crowd that braved the rain and wind, Kiwanuka was in fine form. Stepping onstage, he welcomed the audience with “I’ll Get Along” and followed up with “Tell Me a Tale,” which he described “as a tune you might know.” Taking up his acoustic guitar for the latter, the rhythm section came in with a percussion-heavy interlude. Kiwanuka played largely from his debut album, Home Again, enamoring his fans with “Bones.” The single is a gospel-y, upbeat tune with underhanded morose lyrics—truly a sad-song-makes-me-happy tune.

At the middle of his set, Kiwanuka drew attention to the night’s date, the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death. As a dedication, he covered “May This Be Love (Waterfall)” with his guitarist in character, donning a feather necklace and fringed guitar strap. Trading in the electric for the acoustic, the singer-songwriter played recent single “I’m Getting Ready” and stripped down the band to just his bassist, Pete Randall, for “Rest,” a country-twinged, heartache-y song showcasing Kiwanuka’s vocals. And although “Home Again” had some ringing feedback, he mollified it with soothing lyrics: “Movin’ on / So I’ll close my eyes / Won’t look behind.”

The end of the evening really brought out Kiwanuka’s gems with a new song, “If You Dare,” reminiscent of the Temptations’ downtempo swagger mixed with the first few chords of Redding’s “Sittin’ On (The Dock of the Bay).” Coincidentally (or not), he continued with a cover of Redding’s “I Don’t Know.” The audience joined in, clapping and singing along, “I just don’t know oh oh.” For the encore, Kiwanuka and Randall concluded the evening with “Lasan,” originally a collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Kiwanuka hoped it would send the onlookers “softly and soulfully into the night.” It certainly did. —Sharlene Chiu

(Michael Kiwanuka plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday.)