Last time Michael Kiwanuka was in Australia for Splendour 2016, he’d just released his now acclaimed second album Love & Hate, and so it hadn’t really had time to breathe and grow on both the band, and the audience. He still played a strong set, but was clearly learning the album, and the best way to perform it. Now, 8 months down the track, the band have locked down an impressive performance and the audience have come to appreciate the unique beauty of the album. The appeal of the songs is their deceptive simplicity; starting from a simple riff, refrain or idea, and growing into a fully-fledged beast by its end. The live set embodies this style even more so, with the band jamming out an idea, gradually adding more and more layers. In this way, Kiwanuka is a rare talent; a restrained guitar god. He could shred solos, but chooses not to, instead focusing on a slow-burn, atmospheric performance as in opening odyssey ‘Cold Little Heart’. Other highlights included ‘Black Man In A White World’ (which had the whole crowd singing along), ‘Rule The World’ and ‘The Final Frame’.
I like to live life on the edge, and so yesterday boldly proclaimed Mavis Staples as “best voice of the festival”. Sorry Staples, but I think I may have to pass the torch onto R&B singer-songwriter Gallant. Since releasing his debut LP Ology last year, the singer has been building quite a reputation off the back of his voice, particularly after a hyped late night show performance. The album was impressive, but I admittedly found it a bit one-note by the end. Live however, it becomes a whole different beast.
Gallant has an insane vocal range, but on the album you can take it for granted after a few tracks. In performance however, you’re constantly reminded that this is an actual person hitting those notes, and it’s never lost on you. The audience let off a massive cheer after every big moment, and Gallant played to this, running around the stage, dropping to his knees and even giving dramatic pauses during songs. Particular highlights came in the big hits like ‘Weight in Gold’, ‘Bourbon’ and ‘Talkin’ To Myself’ which provided surprising entertainment when confident (read: drunk) members of the crowd attempted to keep up with those notes. Spoiler: they failed.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and The Soul Rebels
As the first big jazz act of the weekend, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue pulled a big crowd of punters who’d decided not to venture into Margaritaville-ville. With saxophones, trombones (surprise, surprise), drums, guitar and bass, the ensemble created a brassy wall of sound which got awkward limbs flailing throughout the tent. Serious props to the sound guy for pulling this one off with a beautiful audio mix. The band quickly won the crowd over with trading solos and synchronised dance moves, and didn’t let off until the final note echoed out.
At the same time, fellow Orleans compatriots The Soul Rebels were giving them a run for their money on another stage, dropping brassy covers of hip-hop classics. A funky cover of A Tribe Called Quest‘s ‘Can I Kick It’ receives extra points for allowing me to embarrass myself by rapping along. A shoutout to late MC Phife Dawg was a great touch as well and got a loud cheer.
Mary J Blige
After an afternoon of R&B, soul, hip-hop, Mary J Blige proved why she’s the Queen of all three, and treated the excited crowd to a powerful set filled with empowering messages. Swapping between big hits like ‘Family Affair’ and ‘Real Love’ and new favourites like ‘Love Yourself’, she proved why she’s a true master of her craft. Mary J Blige really owns her show, shouting out messages of inspiration to the crowd, and dancing around the stage like she’s right at home…which she definitely is.