Michael Kiwanuka at the Bluebird, 8/7/12
Tom Murphy Michael Kiwanuka at the Bluebird Theater last night.
But thankfully, there were no barn-burning, amp-toppling rages. Guitar shredding is not in this band's vocabulary, nor should it be: Hearing Kiwanuka's voice alone is an experience that could stop traffic. The London native, whose parents immigrated from Uganda, has been compared to Bill Withers and Terry Callier, and rightly so; a soul singer with folk influences, he has a similar wide-ranging, easygoing appeal.
By all indications, Kiwanuka felt at home in Denver. His band had spent the day here, stopping by a nearby coffee shop, where he handed out free passes to the show. Between songs, which included a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love," Kiwanuka mentioned that he drank a pint of beer earlier in the day and, thanks to the elevation, he was about drunk from it.
Tom Murphy Michael Kiwanuka last night at the Bluebird Theater.
In a post-show chat with Kiwanuka at Lost Lake Lounge, he said he hopes to visit Red Rocks. This is his first-ever West Coast tour, and he wants to take in as much out here as possible. "Yeah, I want to see all the sites while I'm out here," said Kiwanuka, who just turned 25 and is touring the entirety of America for the first time. In an industry that often rewards arrogance and bad behavior in general, Kiwanuka's bright-eyed outlook is inspiring.
Personal Bias: Kiwanuka's hot-new-thing status (an opening slot on Adele's tour; a recent feature on NPR) had me suspicious of whether he could deliver the goods in concert. Thankfully, he did.
Random Note: Kiwanuka has perhaps the most humble merch table I've ever seen. No tote bags. No bumper stickers. Just a handwritten note that says "Michael Kiwanuka CDs - $10."
By the Way: Nathaniel Rateliff, fresh off his tour with Mumford & Sons, will be playing gigs with Michael Kiwanuka in October.