Miguel thrust his pelvis into the mic stand, which had been cockily adorned with white fringe. The effect was ambivalently sexy and mop-like, and not a bad metaphor for the first half of Saturday evening’s benefit show for the Open Space Alliance of North Brooklyn, presented by Northside Festival in McCarren Park. Miguel performed with great confidence, although perhaps at some points feeling distant from the adoring crowd that had gathered to see him.
The artist, whose latest album, Wildheart (2015), elegantly transcends the “alternative R&B” label, arrived to a turnout happily situated in the palm of his hand. They collectively swooned as he threw off his leather jacket to reveal a brightly colored silk shirt. They relished the cat-and-mouse games he played before each song: “I’m going to ask you a serious question,” he teased, savoring the suspense. “Do you like drugs?” The audience roared their affirmation and Miguel launched into “Do You…,” a fan-favorite off his 2012 album Kaleidoscope Dream.
“Do you like drugs?” the song asks with sweet intensity. “Have you ever felt alone?/Do you still believe in love?” On the album, a sense of yearning is front-and-center. That vulnerability may have been missing at times from early portions of Miguel’s Saturday show (a criticism that’s been leveled at him more than once). Instead, it veered toward the theatrics of an arena rock concert, every note delivered as a zenith.
It was high-octane entertainment. But it contrasted sharply with lower-key nature of the night’s openers: Saro, whose gorgeous, feminine voice embodied melancholy; and BJ the Chicago Kid, who, after delivering a set that was feeling itself like the best jam session, humbly said his goodbyes, exited the stage and left his band to play us out.
But then: “Can I sit together with you for a minute?” Miguel asked, perching on the edge of the stage. From this vantage, he made an earnest plea for positivity, interconnectedness and love, before transitioning smoothly into “Candles in the Sun.” His silky voice shone brilliantly through the sparser instrumentation. Finally, some walls were down.
For the most part, the soaring highs were now believably imbued with desire. Miguel closed his eyes, singing soulful “oohs” through Wildheart’s “Coffee,” which possessed all the drama of a finale.
A breeze washed over the park as the real closer, “Face the Sun,” got underway. The guitarist leapt forward, luxuriating in the powerhouse solo that is provided by Lenny Kravitz on the studio version.
“Baby, we’re the same, you know my flaws,” Miguel belted. “I belong with you.” It was a fitting homage to a crowd whose love he always deserved, but eventually came around to win over for himself.
Photos by Zane Roessell