Miguel, one of the hottest names in R&B right now thanks to his acclaimed new album Wildheart, is a massively talented performer. But his showcase set at Sonos Studios in Hollywood — for some lucky Pandora users and a bunch of media and industry VIPs — was as much about dropping knowledge as it was about singing.
The show, which was billed as doors at 7 p.m., concert at 8, got off to a rocky start; the doors opened just after 8, and the concert didn't start until around 9:15. Miguel, apparently, had been double-booked, and was playing another free concert at Hollywood & Highland — not that the audience was told this, but in the age of Twitter, nothing stays secret for long.
No one seemed to mind, though; the crowd was fairly mellow, with a few rambunctious but enthusiastic individuals.
But whatever worries the audience had melted away once Miguel took the mic. Backed by a bass, guitar and mostly electronic drum kit, Miguel sounded great in the intimate Sonos space, which holds about 250 people and has phenomenal acoustics, especially close to the stage. The combination of Miguel's voice and the venue made for a damn near perfect auditory experience.
The visual experience was cool, too, with Miguel and his band decked out in white and surrounded by white curtains and white walls. The band and space became screens for projected images, which alternated between post-modern moving art of stars and cityscapes and scenes from his music videos.
Miguel is an engaging performer; his sinuous body reflects the beat and rhythm of his music, which floats between genres, but always has a strong groove. He has a good sense of play with the audience, too, singing to everybody and nobody in the small crowd. It's a weird sort of intimacy, but it lands well, probably because it doesn’t read as raunchy, keeping the night’s tone classy (a feat in and of itself, given the frankly sexual content of Miguel's lyrics).
The singer would take breaks to sermonize during the set, offering words of encouragement to the audience. “The most important thing that I’ve found thus far is that the worst thing we can do in life is to live a life trying to please or appease others,” he said at one point, adding, “We really can free ourselves from worrying about other peoples’ perceptions of us if we just take the time to figure out what the fuck we stand for, what we’re willing to sacrifice, what we’re not willing to sacrifice.”
Disappointingly, he teased the song “What’s Normal Anyway” a few times during the show, but didn’t play it during the set, which was about 50 minutes long. The audience was treated to the first couple lines performed a cappella, but it wasn’t enough of the insightful song about feeling out of place.
Born and raised in San Pedro, Miguel is a local boy, and the crowd (which was full of self-identified native Angelenos) welcomed him with open arms. A particularly nice moment happened during “Hollywood Dreams,” as he listed various streets like Hollywood, Sunset, Santa Monica Boulevard, Figueroa, Alameda, Slauson, Crenshaw, and Jefferson. As he named each street, the crowd would cheer for the streets they know, the streets they travel regularly, the streets they live on.
His current hit, “Coffee,” was surprisingly buried in the middle of the set, and he chose to close the night out with “Adorn,” his highest-charting song so far. After riffing on the song's ending for a little while, Miguel left the audience with some parting words of wisdom. "The truth is, whenever you're doing something that's unconventional, you're bound to face adversity. But I can tell you, you stick to your guns, and you believe deeper, transcend all of the programming, life is beautiful. So stay well. Live your passion. Live your truth."
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