Gig Review: Michael Kiwanuka

M Kiwanuka 1Who: Michael Kiwanuka

Where: St. Michael’s Uniting Church, Collins St., Melbourne

When: 26th March 2013

Having passed St Michael’s Uniting Church numerous times during my time here in Melbourne, I have always been taken aback by its almost Gothic like exterior, which includes an array of differing coloured brick work and Romanesque arches throughout. Having dug a little deeper, I found out it contains the largest collection of existential-religious stained glass in the Southern Hemisphere. All the while surrounded by modern day highrise offices towering above it. It has been one of the cities most captivating landmarks for many a year, yet it took this gig to finally lead me through its doors. Perhaps it is my lack of belief in all things (supposedly) holy that kept from having a snoop around previously?

This event was one of nearly 100 sideshows from the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest scattered along the east coast. Having been a fan of Michale Kiwanuka since I fest heard his song ‘Tell Me A Tale’ in 2011, as well as having seen him perform in Dublin’s Sugar Club early last year, it was one sideshow that stood out. Due to the setting, it was a first come first serve basis regarding the seating arrangements, so I opted to view the alter based stage set up, from a pew with the best available leg room. I was quite taken aback by the circular layout of the room, which you wouldn’t be able to tell was the case, from the outside design. There is a slight slope towards the alter, which allows for all those in attendance to view the stage on an equal playing field which is a major plus.

Ainslie 1Folk singer Benjamin Francis Leftwich, was originally advertised as being the support for tonight. However as I entered the venue, I noticed his name missing from the schedule, and was informed that he was forced to cancel due to a family matter. He was more than ably substituted by local musician Ainslie Wills, who along with her associate Laurence, took to the stage with electric guitar in tow. The 120 or so people who made it in for this performance were in for a treat, as number’s ‘Mary’ and “Wide Load’ – which is a song about a break up – showed off Ainslie’s impressive vocal attributes, which were at times, reminiscent of  both Jeff Buckley and Lift to Experience’s Josh T Pearson.  We were then treated to a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Nude’, where Ainslie downed her guitar, and with clasped hands throughout, hit the necessary Tom Yorke-esque high notes with ease. Albeit without the jerky head moves! The final song ‘Early Morning Light’, which co-incidentally enough, was inspired by a walk Ainslie took early one day, had the crowd’s full attention, and by its end both musicians left the stage to very appreciated applause. She will be releasing her debut album ‘You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine’ on 24th April in the Northcote Social Club, and so I advise you check that launch night out.

By the time Michael Kiwanuka and his fellow band mates – Pete Randon on bass and Graham Godfry on drums – walked on stage the place was pretty close to capacity. They immediately kicked into some instrumental noodling, with Godfrey thumping the shit out of his instrument. While the cacophonous sound that emanated from the three piece, would have surely blow any cobwebs away from the giant organ behind them. This led straight into opening number ‘If You’d Dare’ which in itself came across like one long bluesy jam session, where Godfrey in particular, continued along his initial Animal like up tempo kit bashing. Next up was a slightly different, and longer, take on the recorded version of ‘Tell Me A Tale’, but the heads in the seats were happily bobbling along. A quick “How’s everyone doin?” was spouted out by Kiwanuka, as he moved onto acoustic guitar – already his 3rd different of the night – for a double helping of ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ and ‘Rest’, where his soothing soul vocals came to the fore, as his band mates turned things down a notch, during these down-tempo numbers.

SAM_1246Next up was the evenings second cover, as the band took on Jimi Hendrix’s ‘May This Be Love’ (aka Waterfall). It was here that Kiwanuka briefly chatted about musicians having various musical influences, but that one he rarely seems linked with, is the deceased guitar virtuoso. Their take on this tune started off with all three playing in a restrained manner, which slowly built up into what was a mixed crescendo of heavy beats, screeching guitar and bass pounding noise. At all times Kiwanuka seemed cool, calm and collected in his own world, which was the polar opposite of bassist Randon, who came across like a full sized human bobble head character throughout.

The pace slowed down a peg or two once more, with the acoustic guitar returning for ‘I’m Getting Ready’, which is an apt song for our current surroundings as it includes the line “…but if I hold on tight is it true, would you take care of all I do?….Oh lord, I’m getting ready to believe…” It was then time for Kiwanuka to perform solo, for tracks ‘Any Day Will Do Fine’ and ‘I Won’t Lie’. The latter of which he informs us, he was inspired to write, after watching British blues singer Ian Siegal, perform at a festival in the UK a few years back. Next up was a new track entitled ‘Woody’, which may at some stage see the light of day this year. During it I glanced up toward the numerous stained glass windows, and got to thinking that if the various characters on show were able to, they’d surely be dancing along to this new tune, it was that kinda song.

‘Home Again’ followed suit and even managed to get some members of the audience singing along. As I’ve found out at numerous gigs over here, the locals rarely react during a song of any kind, bar bobbing their heads or clapping in approval at the end of a track! The set finished up with ‘I’ll Get Along’, which is one my favourites off the debut album ‘Home Again’, and it came to the end just as the clock reached close to the 60 minute mark. This led to the band leaving to a standing ovation, which I must admit felt odd, as it was the first time ever that I was in a church for an hour, and only had to stand up once! After a couple of minutes they returned, minus Godfrey, to play a track that may or may not have been on a special edition of the album in the United States, so it will have to remain nameless in this review! Unfortunately it was the only song played in the encore but once it was over the audience rightly gave the Kiwanuka and co. the response this show deserved.

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