Michael Kiwanuka at Alexandra Palace
Through dazzling lights, waves of lush instrumentation and the adoring cheers of thousands, Michael Kiwanuka made his long-awaited return to Alexandra Palace, two years after the pandemic put his gig on almost permanent delay.
For the young Briton, whose 2019 album Kiwanuka won the Mercury Prize, the concert was something of a homecoming as, midway through the set, he spoke to the crowd about how he had grown up only 15 minutes from the venue. It was a sweet note that capped off a glorious evening of music, as Kiwanuka ran through a bumper set of his hits, including a four-song encore.
Supporting the artist were Wild Front, who brought waves of reverb and distortion that filled the cavernous venue. They were a fitting opening act that suited the high Victorian ceilings and the gleaming rose window, adding a sense of majesty to an already pretty majestic locale. However, that was upped tenfold when Kiwanuka came onstage an hour later with his band.
Perhaps the evening’s most remarkable aspect was the seamless and tight musicianship that punctuated the excellent songwriting. This was particularly true of the backing vocals, provided by longtime collaborators Emily Holligan and Simone Richards, whose incredible voices brought sweet textural depth to many of the tunes, and sometimes even dominated centre-stage. Then there was the lead guitar work from Michael Jablonka, which emanated a combination of Hendrix and Eddie Hazel with more than a few wah-pedal induced solos, all of which brought the house down.
Nonetheless, the real star of the show was Kiwanuka’s songs, which remain as compelling and timeless as they were when they first hit the scene. Performing hits dating right back to 2012’s Home Again, almost every single tune sparked an animated reaction from the enraptured audience, including some classic off-kilter crowd participation during standouts Black Man in a White World and Hero. But poor audience rhythm couldn’t detract from this performance, and the powerful way the singer-songwriter belted his words through closed eyes, particularly on popular favourite Cold Little Heart, which clearly resonated with the crowd.
There was rapturous applause after every song, but at the end, the lofty ceilings were met with the crescendo of an ovation that would rival the grandest of arenas. It was a fitting tribute to a long-awaited and incredible performance.
Photos: Miguel de Melo
For further information and future events visit Michael Kiwanuka’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Cold Little Heart here: