Live Review: Michael Kiwanuka, Ainslie Wills

20 April 2017 | 1:09 pm | Shaun Colnan

"When he sang, every shyness and ailment melted away with that profoundly rich voice."

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Ainslie Wills opened amid a stage cluttered with instruments which she blended together until she began to sing. Her voice rose from the mess and hit the ears of a half full room. Her voice was wistful and sonorous and with accompaniment from her guitar and keyboard, the music was the perfect warm-up for an eager audience. It would be wonderful to see what sort of atmosphere Wills could create with a band behind her.

Michael Kiwanuka's voice is certainly a rare treat and one that those lucky enough could marvel over during his two performances on consecutive nights at Oxford Art Factory. Londoner Kiwanuka joked about the distance between our two countries and how wonderful it was to be playing guitar for a living, appearing coy and stumbling over his words, clearly jet lagged. Yet when he sang, every shyness and ailment melted away with that profoundly rich voice. 

Kiwanuka and five bandmates moved predominantly through his new album, Love & Hate, which was released in 2016. The album, when performed live, is a mix of slower jams like I'll Never Love and drawn out, journeying jams like Cold Little Heart, which opened the show, and Love & Hate which closed it.

The performance was indeed a departure from Kiwanuka's last trip to Australia which saw him play almost all of his songs from his first album Home Again. Only two from his inaugural oeuvre showed up on this set list. Rest, a beautiful and tender song — "the first I ever wrote," Kiwanuka remarked — and I'm Getting Ready, both played acoustically. The band was not overly tight, perhaps ruined from a busy schedule which had seen them play Bluesfest over the weekend, yet this was a wonderful performance nonetheless. Kiwanuka's soulful voice draws you in and, despite all else, soothes you and soon wins out.

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