Words and photos by Patrick Bales
Michael Kiwanuka made his long-awaited return to Toronto on February 6, wowing a capacity crowd at REBEL Entertainment Complex. His fourth time in the city, Kiwanuka played to approximately as many people this time as his previous three visits combined.
No doubt there was a lot of repeat business in the crowd. In the days leading up to the show, tickets on the resale market were selling for more than double the face value. Even still, by the time Kiwanuka broke out Cold Little Heart in the encore, he’d given the REBEL crowd its money’s worth.
There was no stopping him and his stellar six-member band during the 90-minute set, from the crunchy funk of Rolling to the soaring Black Man In A White World. In the latter, arguably one of Kiwanuka’s most powerful songs, an extended gospel-influenced salsa jam outro turned the nightclub into one of the hippest churches on the planet.
Criminally underappreciated, Kiwanuka sounds unlike just about anything else in contemporary rock. His music is evolving at a breakneck pace, but not at the expense of his back catalogue. Tell Me A Tale and Rest, from his debut LP Home Again, sound as vibrant as they did eight years ago when matched alongside You Ain’t The Problem or Hero, from last year’s eponymous record.
Kiwanuka very well could be the answer to the question “If Jimi Hendrix had survived further into the 1970s, what would his music sound like?” And if that’s the case, he shouldn’t be criminally underappreciated much longer.