In an industry where the allure of fast-click fame and fast bucks can make artists crave cheap retweets or knock out undernourished releases, Michael Kiwanuka does not strike as a man in a hurry. Critical acclaim surrounded the quiet magnitude of 2012's "Home Again"; 2016's moody, clamorous psych-soul follow-up, "Love and Hate" emulated the success of its more introspective older sibling. At this rate, his next release is due out in 2020. At Bristol's Colston Hall, in the midst of his 2017 spring tour, Kiwanuka gave a no-nonsense performance, as if anything remotely throwaway had already been jettisoned, leaving it all about the music, showcasing his soulful voice and his soul-searching songwriting, underpinned by his exemplary, eight-strong backing band.
Kiwanuka's demeanour on stage is modest, earnest and grateful. He doesn't do matey banter; what he has to say comes from the songs. His actions speak loudest; he'd already conveyed his strongest message before the show began. Ticket prices were set at an affordable rate, with no hidden fees. To prevent insidious resale, purchases were restricted to four per booking and the lead booker had to be present, with photo ID, to gain entry - just further proof that Mr Kiwanuka has soul. A little more of this judicious approach from big acts could turn the vultures of the secondary ticketing world into the carrion, eviscerating a market that is already ethically empty.
On his more intimate songs, you'd want him jamming in your living room, over a cuppa and a chinwag. Opener, "Cold Little Heart", with its plaintive, repetitive 'I'm bleeding' bore an impassioned intensity. The middle of the set had the quiet, contemplative pairing of "I'm Getting Ready" and "Rest", a beautifully sparse sanctuary of calm before the last three songs of the pre-encore set took us to church, to Woodstock and to the dark side of the moon in equal measures.
You couldn't invite him round to yours to play his epic, widescreen, psychedelic rock tracks; the neighbours would definitely land you with an ASBO. For these, you need him at the other end of an aircraft hangar, possibly behind reinforced glass. "Rule the World" (not a Take That cover) had all the grandeur and gravitas of Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky", with stratospheric backing vocals akin to Clare Torry's soaring, wordless solo on that track. We saw MK's inner Hendrix coming out, when he went Kiwanuklear during his powerful guitar solo on "The Final Frame". The precision-heft vocal of his gospel-soaked "Father's Child" left us wondering whether he even needed a microphone.
At a seated Michael Kiwanuka show, you frequently end up neck-and-torso dancing, to the effect that half the audience looks like they're reproducing the moves of Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement. "One More Night" had that easy-listening-but-restless-energy funk in which he excels. "Black Man in a White World" was a quiet-loud-quiet triumph, its clapalong opening giving way to a full-band, layered, frenetic mid-section, before a gradual diminuendo to voice, guitar and simple percussion at the end. Maybe it was a deliberate move, or perhaps the act of some lighting wag, but putting the house lights up in the middle of the song, thereby briefly surveying the Colston Hall audience, rather proved the veracity of the song's title.
It was a night of understated but studied intelligence. Even the intro and outro sections made for atmospheric viewing. In possible homage to Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense", the performers gradually assembled on the stage before the first track, contributing to the sound as they picked up their instruments. At the end of "Father's Child", MK left first and the others gradually followed, the beginning and end underpinned by synths reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here".
The encore gave us the bittersweet, supportive hug that is "Home Again", before the triumphant "Love and Hate" signed off with 'Standing now,/ Calling all the people here to see the show,/ Calling for my demons now to let me go,/ I need something, give me something wonderful'. Considering it was his 30th birthday, we were more the beneficiaries of his gift. In return, we bestowed our rapt attention. We also sang him a traditional rendition of "Happy Birthday". Perhaps the Stevie Wonder version would have been more apt.