Oxford Art Factory, April 19
Looked at one way, Michael Kiwanuka makes no sense.
A man who can sound like Bill Withers and Randy Newman, who is English but feels Californian, who hits mellow mostly on matters romantic and yet packs a lyrical punch on issues racial.
A man who begins the night with a perfect mid period Pink Floyd-style instrumental: languorous guitar explorations over keyboard washes, slow build as the other instruments arrive, and a dreamy psychedelia to climax. Second side of Meddle? Sure, why not.
And then moves from that psych rock to folk rock to funk to soul to barrio grooves and, as if to complete a circle in the extended lines of Black Man In A White World, a furry-around-the-edges psych soul.
The only thing missing to complete the early-to-mid ‘70s American FM radio world created by his easy-to-the-line, long haired/afro-d players of keys/drums/guitar/bass/percussion (of course there was a percussionist, man, dig it) was a flute.
And I’m pretty sure we got a replacement via a keyboard sound at one point anyway.
This, to a room of young and old in Sydney in 2017, who were not laughing up their sleeves at the retro but totally grooving to it. Packed to the back walls for the first of two sold out shows and in no hurry to hurry anything along.
Looked at another way, Kiwanuka makes perfect sense.
These songs have a way of patching differences between generations, clearly. But also of bridging those who like the acoustic, herbal surfer types (from Jack Johnson to Angus Stone) but need a way out of that mellow morass, and those who have discovered the varieties of funk available now in a country which never really understood it in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but aren’t really wanting to make some hard moves yet.
Kiwanuka’s voice is not perfectly smooth, which is a good thing, and he’s got an easy charisma rather than a dominant presence, which is also a good thing.
There’s a light dusting of preacher man about him and plenty of sensitivity too.
There’s a patchwork to stitch together there. Or you could just say Kiwanuka’s voice, songs, band and message are just very good.
That’s common sense.