Warner Grand Theater
Sept. 2, 2015
There’s nothing like a triumphant homecoming. The sexy, inspirational singer Miguel performed Wednesday night at a Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro packed with family, friends and fans. It was literally the return of a prodigal son; Miguel’s dad was among the hundreds of audience members who remained on their feet throughout the 90-minute, blazing set. (So was city council member Joe Buscaino.)
The native San Pedran is a charismatic performer who can effortlessly climb the scales from a gruff rock growl to a Sam Smith-esque falsetto. The phrase “sex symbol” doesn’t even begin to describe the way his six-pack connects to his tight white pants and the effect he has on the ladies — and some of the men.
Dressed all in white (over that glistening bare chest), Miguel also likes to spread the gospel. In Pedro, he was preaching to an ecstatic choir.
“Don’t ever forget that I’m just like you,” he said in an encore speech that sounded like a message he delivers every night, yet perfectly keyed to this time and place. “There’s no dream too big, too far … to reach. I’m reminded of that every time I walk on a stage, but especially this stage tonight.”
Miguel was as inspired by the loving response he received as he was inspiring, and he certainly seemed like a performer on the edge of big dreams. He has the talent, drive and looks to become an idol, if not an icon — though the material on his three major-label albums is not quite there yet.
With his multi-racial and gendered band, mono name, slightly androgynous ‘do of pompadour and fusion of rock and soul, he primarily evokes Prince. But he also harkens back to a legacy of artists whose sweat-drenched performances have offered their followings deliverance: Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen. Above all, he recalls Jackie Wilson, the great soul singer and ladies’ man. He mixes a sort of new age mysticism with his music; he calls himself “the magic man,” delivering a fusion of spiritual and secular that lies at the heart of a lot of great American music
After a surprising but winning set by hard rock band Dorothy — led by a belter who looks like a young, brunette Geena Davis — Miguel and his five-piece band took the stage, all dressed in white. They immediately launched into a 10-minute, hard-driving R&B workout of “Simple Things” that had the crowd singing along, climaxed with a chant to “Smoke a little something/ Pop a little something.” Miguel finished the song with a James Brown-worthy split.
Fans immediately fled their seats to press against the stage — and periodically run their fingers across Miguel’s pants, an interesting twist on the old laying on of hands. The singer, who also played guitar on one song, didn’t allude to the setting for the first third of the show, except for a shout-out to “Pee-drow!” — revealing his true roots by pronouncing it like a local. But then he stopped to offer some wisdom, and some stories of his own upbringing in “Dro City” — a tour spiel made tangible by his reference to “getting caught up in a lot of bullshit on the streets” a stone’s throw away.
The child of a Mexican-American father and “a beautiful black woman from Inglewood,” Miguel recalled scrolling though the ethnic identity boxes in school questionnaires, finally landing on “Other.” “Feeling out of place was something I dealt with on a daily basis,” he said, before launching into “What’s Normal Anyway,” from his latest album, Wildheart. The motivational lecture felt lived, delivered to a crowd that seemed to well understand the perils of growing up biracial in a town whose working-class neighborhoods are often still divided along ethnic lines.
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As a Pedran myself, it was great to see the gorgeous, Art Deco Warner Grand, used mostly by community theater groups, drawing music lovers to San Pedro. Hopefully this is a trend; Chris Cornell plays the Grand Sept. 21. Of course, the venue is also home to the San Pedro Ballet Company, and the fact that SPBC alum/American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland and Miguel are now the faces of Pedro to the world symbolizes how this longtime working-class port town has changed and is still changing.
Miguel has spent his career trying to move out of the boxes in which brown and black men get put. But returning to where he began last night, he made it clear that he has learned to own who he is — and that he wants to share that lesson with a willing audience, along with a little bump and grind.