MIGUEL at the Guvernment. Tuesday, December 11. Rating: NNNNN
There is nothing subtle about Miguel. Not in his overly stage-managed style, which has evolved from R&B vampire in floor-length leathers to gussied-up greaser in flat-front trousers and cuffed white tees. Not in his sound that over two albums - 2010's urban-pop All I Want Is You and this year's riffier Kaleidoscope Dream - is still best described as mad licentious. And not even that libido itself, which deals only in vivid commands: "defile me," "tell me that that pussy is mine," "I just want a quickie, no bite marks, no scratches and no hickies." This year newcomers Frank Ocean and the Weeknd were Miguel's closest identified competitors (that is, two other black dudes who sing well-engineered pop songs) but he edges them out precisely because of that quintessentially R&B lack of restraint. This isn't about him, it's about you, girl.
So the theme was all caps ROMANCE last night at the newly Grammy-nominated singer's show. The pre-show DJ, Lissa Monet, played Usher and Frank Ocean, which didn't go off like lip-biting classics from Ginuwine and R. Kelly. This wasn't that kind of show. She also ran through the requisite Kanye/French Montana/2 Chainz, ending on Trinidad James' ignoranthem All Gold Everything, before the love got turned up again: some dude proposed to his lady on stage (she said yes).
And then Miguel sauntered out in a grey plaid suit and red button-up shirt and sunglasses, and those pec-grazing chains that never come off. He smiled and opened his arms to the crowd, inviting all the feral screams, extracting the room's cumulative estrogen and converting it to 5-hour ENERGY to power his performance. It was that kind of show.
Miguel has outgrown his biggest radio hit, 2009's Sure Thing, and got it out of the way early. The new material - Gravity, The Thrill, Use Me, Do You - sounds as it does on record: muscular, 3D, hip-swivelingly earnest. These songs rarely waver in dynamics, though Miguel's candied vocals - pristine, even as he leapt and body rolled and gyrated around the stage - tempered the intensity. To that end, the early songs that have come to represent some sort of blighted, boxed-in past, were almost better because they're not as conspicuous. On these - All I Want Is You, Girl With The Tattoo, Quickie - he took his time, adlibbing outros and standing near-still (except for his pelvis). At one point the band broke so he could coo a few bars from Bob Marley's Stir It Up and near the end, while Tupac's I Get Around played, he did the Humpty Dance on line with his players: intimate moments in a persuasive, but highly impersonal show.
The real subtext of such a ribald-ass night was this: when will that shirt come off? It happened midway through the set during his most extra song, Pussy Is Mine (earning him that extra N). And he played the last 40 minutes shirtless, demurely pulling on a jacket to close with his popular 2012 single, the devotional Adorn.