Miguel is a straight-up animated RnB star. He is tall, slender, toned, agile… he's beautiful. Let's not dodge the fact that's he's Nietzschean in scale - a Superman of Californian design. He is animated as he arrives on stage. Exposing a repertoire of Ne-Yo theatrics: kicking the air, darting across to the crowd stageleft-stageright, spinning, dropping to the floor, calling out to the crowd. It's an outing of textbook seduction. His vocal chords have barely moved, yet he has the crowd doting on him.
Before the dust has settled on such a bombast opening the band powers through into 'Sure Thing'. Up until this point it has been nothing but screaming. "Love you like a brother, treat you like a friend, respect you like a lover," opens and the crowd go off. Here's a star unplayed on mainstream radio, ignored by TV, missed by most of the print press, packing out The Ritz and summoning a devout audience as if it were a top 40 homecoming show. An impish Californian with a generation eating out of his hand. In three months he headlines Madison Square Gardens. But tonight it's a small island's aficionados up close. The band are sticking to script and perform a light dance - partially because the computer hub of the live show isn't exploding out the monitors - to make way for the vocals. There's a stiffness to the song. As the chorus leads the track home Miguel pops his earpiece out and joins the crowd in voice, leaving the band behind him. The generosity between performer and crowd is tangible.
There's a crowded marketplace for male RnB vocalists right now. There always are any number of pretenders at any one time vying for the hearts and minds of soft hearted kids, but right now there are few angles left to take. Whether it's Drake's oafishness, Ne-Yo's Disney dandy, Bruno Mars' wet wet wet salsa, The Weeknd's Mile High melatonin, or the return of D'Angelo/Timberlake. Even the dance-because-you-can't-sing of Usher/JLS, or the cunt-a-gram of Chris Brown. There just isn't room on bedroom walls for anymore more posters. What Miguel tacitly does is ply the simple classic line. For the most part the guitar imagines a Willie Mitchell delicacy - lightly chiming, tapping its way through the tracks.
A lot of RnB singers do the rock band shtick. No matter how electronically minded the production on their records can be, when put before a live audience they evolve into Mick Jagger and co. I'm beginning to suspect that, in it's regularity, this turn could be attributed to the warm anodyne intimacy evoked on modern records, designed for iPod headphones and personal playbacks. Delivered to a crowd it is required to fall back on the universal staples of clattering drums and hearty licks. To race through the veins of a packed venue.
Miguel delivered this with a knowingness. There's a rawness in his voice that suggests he's thinking of '70s soul records as much as '90s new jack swing. 'Do You...' is a serious highlight in an already seem less set. The deep funk flatters his voice which is super strong, way stronger than he always lets on. There's a raw ease to much of the delivery. Rough cut at times. So classic and anti-autotuned. No manipulation, nor distortion. This is a plain set delivered impeccably.
"You guys are making me feel like a piece of meat up here," reacting to the crowd booing as he puts his vest back on, "I just want you to focus on what I'm saying… Life's all about breathing." Here the knowingness reappears, as Miguel begins to get deep down and philosophical: "The things we've learned... we have so much potential... what holds us back is our greed." It's a touching segment, even if it precedes an enactment of a quicky involving hair pulling, waist pumping, and the hat tippingly educational charade of putting on a condom.
Words by Samuel Breen