These mid week gigs are quite literally killing me, I think there were 4 in the calendar this week alone so I made an informed choice and passed on my tickets to a very good friend who had been trying really hard to secure a pair for her and her better half. Don’t get me wrong, the chance to see Michael Kiwunaka in such an intimate environment doesn’t happen very often but seeing as I’d caught him twice at some festivals this summer, I thought it fair to let someone else have the opportunity (I’m good like that you see!) I would like to say that the write up is of my own doing but that would be a big fat lie so I’ll hand over here to Ms Clara Bond to take the reigns and run you through a fabulous evening of live music at The Phoenix in the heart of Exeter.
Michael Kiwanuka is a success story in his own right, he launched his debut album ‘Home Again’ in 2012, reaching number 4 in the UK charts and achieving Gold status. His 2016 long player ‘Love & Hate’ reached the top spot in the UK charts and picked up a slew of 5 star reviews along the way. BOTH albums were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, missing out to Alt-J in 2012 and Skepta in 2016.
Opening the show tonight was London based singer songwriter Isaac Gracie, his debut EP ‘Songs From My Bedroom’ was released in March and has garnered him a healthy fan base already, (I guess a support slot on a sold out Michael Kiwanuka tour goes a long way!)
Isaac has an exceptional voice and amazing vocal control, the audience seemed to really warm to him from the get go. The near capacity crowd were respectfully silent during his performance, listening intently to every word uttered and breath taken. He came across as a cool, calm and collected performer with great stage presence and managed to charm the audience in between songs. I’m sure he will go a long way.
Michael Kiwunaka took to the stage and opened with a really dramatic Pink Floyd-esque instrumental which was incredibly atmospheric and the was enjoyed by the entire room, however it didn't really set the tone for the rest of the performance which had more of an old-school Marvin Gaye/Bill Withers vibe to it.
I actually thought that his live vocals were better than his recorded voice, maybe it was just because his performance made it a better overall experience? Michael’s band were one of the best i’ve seen in a long time, the bassist, drummer and percussionist were world class and made use of some vintage gear from the 70’s which produced a really warm and authentic sound. All this gear is obviously phenomenally expensive, I totted up that the bassist's amp alone would cost anything upward of £4500 alone….something to aim for, eh kids?
My favourite track of Michael’s set was by far his encore, 'Love & Hate’, for me, the harmonies really making it that little bit more special, if I had to name the best track of the night, from the reaction of the audience, I would have to go with 'Home Again’, which quite literally raised the roof and received rapturous applause come the end.
As Steve mentioned at the start of the write up, you don’t stumble across many opportunities like this on a regular basis, Michael Kiwanuka is FAST becoming a household name and the next time he graces Exeter with his presence, it will no doubt be at the university in front of 2000 people instead of the 500 that packed into the auditorium at The Phoenix to bask in his glory on this fine Autumnal evening. A thoroughly enjoyable evening which will be remembered for many months to come!
Words by Clara Bond
Photography by Rhodri Cooper