Recently, R&B has been chewed up and spit out by the music industry, landing in anything from rap features, Diplo collaborations, and high concept indie mystery. Miguel seems to be the great white hope for stalwart fans of popular R&B. Luckily, he deserves the title.
On Wednesday night, as I drank a $7 beer from an impossibly tall glass, Miguel sang his heart out to a tiny, thrilled room in Downtown Manhattan. The night began a mere half an hour after the scheduled time, the singer fronting a full band, complete with an over enthusiastic, faux-hawk equipped guitar player. Miguel approached the mic with the fervor of a born performer. He never stopped moving: spinning, dancing, grimacing, removing the mic from the stand, putting it back, removing his sunglasses, bugging out his eyes, putting the sunglasses back on, removing his jacket, putting on another jacket, removing the second jacket and more. At a particularly climactic moment, he climbed into the audience and got everyone to sing his part for him. Keep in mind that he was performing at a piano bar, not a festival.
Somehow he never seemed to go overboard, asking for audience participation only when the audience was ready and never taking anything too seriously. After performing a song with the repeated line “tell me that your pussy is mine”, he reminded the crowd that his music can sometimes be a little bit silly. Soon afterwards he introduced a song by playing Tupac’s “I Get Around”. Everyone rapped along in excitement.
He showed a no-nonsense stage presence that reflected the tone of his music. The set showcased impressive variety, with songs from quiet storm to rock and everything in between. All of his music, however, is deeply rooted in the 1980s, with a high value placed on thick atmospheric tension. His talent was as apparent when he wasn’t singing as when he was, often stepping aside for surprisingly entertaining guitar freakouts and band jams that only served to raise the mood for his return. An extended version of his biggest hit “Sure Thing” was a particular stand out, Miguel leading the band into a groove as he cooed the audience into passionate call and response.
Not everything went perfectly, of course, but the show’s less captivating moments only presented Miguel’s warm-hearted personality and raised excitement for more polished performances in the future. His new songs were probably the least well received. One, called “Candles in the Sun” was a bleeding heart ballad about crack babies and street crime. Despite its admittedly corny premise, It only seemed to fall flat for lack of rehearsal. Regardless of how the tunes were performed, the songwriting throughout the night was as solid as a rock. If anything, the show cemented in my mind that Miguel is a deserved star in the making, a vibrant and relatable personality with the stage presence of his influences. I can only hope that these advantages show themselves on his album this fall as well as they did that night.
Watch some footage from the performance below.