Photos by Jerome Joyce.
English singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka returned to Toronto last night to plug his excellent third album, Kiwanuka, to a sold out Rebel nightclub. Kiwanuka was one of my favourite albums last year and it just continues his impressive trajectory of great songwriting and powerful albums.
Kiwanuka is not one with an army of hits under his belt, nor does he seem to get much radio play, but whatever he’s doing, he is connecting with an increasingly larger fan base with each album selling out the cavernous Rebel well in advance.
The man brought himself, his backing band and a couple of impressive backup singers right on time and kicked off his 100 minute set with “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)” off the latest album. Lighting was simple – no need for trippy backdrops or laser projections, and the sound was well mixed but final ear input quality would be determined by one’s position in the massive room.
The set covered almost all of Kiwanuka in its entirety with a few tracks from both his 2012 debut Home Again, and his sophomore Love & Hate from 2016. The biggest highlight of the night is Kiwanuka’s voice which can evoke heartache and immense love at the same time, like a warm blanket ready to envelope you in time of need, whether to comfort or to share joy. Other highlights were the songs themselves including “Rolling”, 2016’s “Black Man in a White World”, the Hendrix-esque “Hero “ from Kiwanuka, “Tell Me a Tale” and set closer “Solid Ground”.
They returned for an encore that included “Hard to Say Goodbye”, “Home Again”, “Cold Little Heart” and “Love & Hate” before the masses made their way out to the snowy streets.
The only drawback of the night was the venue itself. It just couldn’t create the perfect atmosphere for Kiwanuka’s music. I couldn’t help but think this would have been a transcendent gig had it been at the currently shuttered Massey Hall or Meridian Hall. The chatting that went on around the bars and outlying areas were a distraction and just not conducive to the attention that Kiwanuka’s music deserves.