I don’t think I’ve ever been to another live show quite like Miguel’s, which peacocked into Glasgow’s ABC last night in a swirl of strobe lights and sleeveless t-shirts. That’s not to say that the show is unique (with all due respect to the man and his skill as a performer, I’m fairly certain it isn’t), just that opportunities to see its like in Glasgow are limited. As a city, Glasgow’s live music scene – indigenous at least, and maybe to an extent that colours touring acts – is still dominated by indie, folk, pub rock, singer songwriters, genres that largely, for better or worse, place a great deal of value in the nebulous idea of ‘authenticity’. Musicians aren’t meant to seem too rehearsed, too artificial, too flashy. It’s all about the music, man. Feelings, an’ that.
Audiences here are famously resistant to acts they feel are trying to put one over on them, and just as famously enthusiastic about sharing their opinions on the matter with whoever’s on stage. Mid-level R&B and hip-hop tours don’t tend to stop here too often, and the ones that do, and play to fairly sizeable crowds – The Roots, Public Enemy, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Janelle Monáe – are generally those that are seen as either speaking truth to power or having ties to deeper soul traditions. Anyone looking for con-man slick, commercially viable modern R&B of the kind Miguel makes usually has to make do with the most commercially viable proponents of the genre, and in cavernous environs at that (Ne-Yo plays the SECC in March).
There’s an air of hyper-reality, then, to seeing exactly that kind of show crammed onto the stage of the ABC 2 – a space which holds 350 people when it’s sold out (a number which, coupled with tickets still being available at least as late as Thursday, should go some way to demonstrating just how little appetite there remains in Glasgow for this type of thing) – and being able to see at close range exactly how a pro like Miguel works the crowd. And make no mistake: He really works the crowd.
Two or three songs from the end of his set, having been shirtless for at least as many preceding that, he implies that his next number – which will turn out to be earnestly anthemic Kaleidoscope Dream closer “Candles in the Sun” (whose placement in an otherwise wholly lascivious set suggests Magic Mike had the first ninety minutes been entirely strip routines and all the economic stuff crammed into the last fifteen) – demands more sincerity than he can afford it with his chest on show. A woman near the front loudly pleads with him to keep the shirt off. Unable to keep a straight face, he compares the moment to the old standby gag in cartoons of a starving character looking at someone and seeing a roast chicken instead. In his mind, he’s the chicken. Which is funny, because ‘cartoon character’ had certainly crossed my mind as a way of describing his persona before then, but not the one of those two that he thinks he is.
On stage (and record) he’s a strutting burlesque of male sexuality, an id-driven Tex Avery wolf in shades, leather jacket and a Guns N’ Roses shirt, the removal of each of those articles of clothing made to look spontaneous but perfectly calibrated for maximum impact. Everything feels rehearsed, but nothing feels fake. He knows when to dance, when to smile, when to pout, but also when to suggest a hint of something real, feral and hungry beneath the tongue lolling out from a mile wide grin, just as he knows that interpolating Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” into his own druggy “Do You…” as the lighting turns red, gold and green will get a huge reaction. By the end of his set, if he hasn’t actually made eye contact with everyone in the room, they’ll at least feel like he has. Unsurprisingly, “Pussy Is Mine” is greeted with screams of concordance.
It all works. His lyrics might make him seem like the kind of cheeseball R&B loverman creep so mercilessly deconstructed by The Weeknd – a persona that, at this range, you can watch him construct piece by piece on stage – but he performs them like he means every word and that there’s nothing wrong with that. He commits. There’s authenticity, if you like, in his artifice. It’s almost Brechtian: He shows you what he’s doing, and how he’s doing it, but the cumulative effect is the same regardless, as the topless guy down the front who proclaims ‘I don’t have a pussy, but my tits are yours!’ will no doubt testify. To borrow a phrase from another guy who made this kind of thing seem so effortless a decade ago (which, Jesus Christ, but that’s an anxiety for another post), he will have you naked by the end of these songs. And really, when it comes down to it, those songs are fucking great, and that’s all that matters.