After forgoing his original Vancouver date as part of a North American tour cancelled due to vocal issues, Michael Kiwanuka made a triumphant return to Vancouver yesterday evening (May 23). He performed to a sold out crowd who'd been granted more time to explore his latest record, Love & Hate, the singer joked.
Before he took to the stage, young Australian singer-songwriter, Cloves, played a set that put the focus on her languid, soulful vocals. Her songs took a pop slant, as she introduced the crowd to new single "California Numb," and songs from 2015's XIII EP. Cloves remains in the process of defining her stage presence, but her excellent vocal stylings are undeniable. She humbly thanked the audience for giving her their time, as the venue had filled considerably towards the end of her set.
A heightened sense of excitement rippled through the Commodore before Michael Kiwanuka and his band entered the stage one by one. As Kiwanuka's keyboardist provided a dramatic instrumental, the tone of the night was set. Opener "Cold Little Heart" may have lacked the strings and female vocals present on the much-lauded Love & Hate, but it retained the gentle '60s guitars, bass and drums that transported concertgoers.
It was clear from the get-go that Kiwanuka and his band were determined to play on their own terms, as extended instrumentals abounded. Kiwanuka gave no introduction, but it wasn't needed. A dedicated audience followed along with each cut from the new record, plus a sprinkling of tracks from his debut album, Home Again. His band featured standout members, such as a deft lead guitarist and a percussionist who played everything from the triangle to the cabasa to the guiro, and together, they truly shone: Their ability to sustain infectious rhythms was impressive, their arrangement of "Black Man in a White World" allowing room for experimentation and extension.
Kiwanuka's presence was affable as he took in the inebriated cheers of fans that connected with his songs like the impassioned "Rule the World." He dipped into his folk beginnings as well, performing more calming tracks from his debut on acoustic guitar with accompaniment from his bassist. There was a lovely polish to the set, as each member exited the stage at the end in the order that they had entered it. As such, the keyboardist stayed on, content to lengthen the chords of "Father's Child" into oblivion. Kiwanuka shines on the introspective tracks of Love & Hate, so it was welcome to hear these songs given significant time and attention.
After returning for an encore that featured a cover of one of his heroes, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (they played "May This Be Love"), Kiwanuka concluded the night with album title track "Love & Hate." Its deceptively simple lyrics, "Love and hate / How much more are we supposed to tolerate?" and "You can't steal the things that god has given me / No more pain and no more shame and misery" felt particularly apt just one night after another serious attack on concertgoers, leaving those at the Commodore feeling empowered — music, after all, is worth fighting for.