When Michael Kiwanuka took the Hellman Hollow stage for his first ever appearance in San Francisco, I anticipated the dulcet sounds to lull the crowd into a state of mellow admiration for the emerging British artist. Instead, what the crowd left with was an understanding between them and Kiwanuka that this was the start of a very fruitful relationship between artist and fan. Outside Lands is a mish-mosh of old and young and rarely do they all agree on the same styles of music, it’s what makes the choices at OL so appealing to all. Kiwanuka bridged that age gap Saturday with his easy going nature and his ability to play along with the audience.
When a girl in the front row offered her glasses to him, with big black hearts for lenses no less, which he gladly accepted and wore as he asked the audience, “Do you like Jimi Hendrix?” with a thick British accent, “Well we’re going to play a Jimi Hendrix song right now.” And he promptly started into a beautiful acoustic rendition of “May This Be Love (Waterfalls)”. It was the type of performance that people remember. It caught an already captive audience by surprise that they hadn’t made the connection between the two before. The voices are similar and both got their starts in London.
Kiwanuka played most of his new album Home Again, which unsurprisingly this audience knew line by line as if they’d rehearsed this moment in front of their mirrors in anticipation of him coming to town for months. In a performance reminiscent of someone like Ben Harper or a toned down Hendrix, Kiwanuka brought a new level of excellence to his music to this crowd and they responded by showering him with their undying adulation. It’s a symbiotic relationship that I suspect will last a long time.