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Live Review: Miguel at The Waterfront, Norwich

After years bound to the mid-tier R&B roster, Miguel Pimentel’s 2012 sophomore effort Kaleidoscope Dream turned the heads of both commercial and alternative audiences with its crossover appeal. It may have taken him two albums to reach British soil, but it’s precisely this marriage of traditional R&B and so-called “intergalactic hip-hop” that makes his sold out performance so entertaining.

Flanked by live guitarists, the beefed-up versions of Use Me and The Thrill have a more aggressive, rock-influenced edge than on record. At every turn he meets this live energy with slick dance moves, taking the showmanship of an arena-playing contemporary such as Bruno Mars while leaving the bland personality at the front door. During set opener Quickie, an ode to casual sex, the singer channels Purple Rain-era Prince, simulating sex and aiming seductive looks at the audience. It’s an appropriate move as bodies gyrate to the track’s thick bass line.

Dressed in a leather jacket while sporting vintage Versace sunglasses and a sleek coiffed haircut, Miguel certainly looks the part, however his sense of taste doesn’t stop at outfit choices. Contemporary R&B often treads the line between the crass and the classy, but Miguel balances this with ease. The lyrics to How Many Drinks might sound like your wingman’s worst line (“how many drinks would it take you to leave with me?), but tracks such as the Grammy award-winning Adorn treat intimacy like a diamond bracelet – something to be respected – as he sings “love never looked so good on ya” in a delicate falsetto.

Yes, he might have sex on the brain, but this crooner makes every attempt to escape the one-dimensional nature of his peers. The surprisingly introspective Pussy Is Mine takes hip-hop’s most tired cliché and digs deeper psychologically, while the politically charged Candles in the Sun aims for conscious R&B, complete with an opening monologue. Despite the latter falling flat on account of bum synth notes, his lyrical sentiment is refreshing enough to suggest that Miguel is worthy of comparisons to artists such as Frank Ocean.

He certainly has the confidence, judging from the way he sweet talks the crowd into singing the hook of Lotus Flower Bomb multiple times (“‘cuz I know y’all can do better”). And while his live performance fails to maintain its initial impact after changes in tone, Miguel’s strength lies with his refusal to be fixed in one role. At once appealing to hipsters and housewives alike with his rock-tinged R&B, Miguel understands the need to be a musician, vocalist, and entertainer in equal measure.

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