Miguel may make get-down jams for the “consent is sexy” generation, but last night at the Boulder Theater, the question on everyone's mind was when the R&B star would take off his goddamn shirt. Dressed in a white fringed jacket, the singer-songwriter delivered a relatively stripped-down performance in which he never stripped all the way down. About halfway through the set, after a soulful a cappella ending of “Leaves,” the stage lights turned off and Miguel removed his shirt while the crowd cheered...and then — anti-climax — donned another shirt (available for sale at the merch table).
Whether you think the objectification of a male pop star is empowering or retrograde, the sex appeal of Miguel himself was not the focus of his performance. Forget sexual healing; Miguel promotes sexual enlightenment via innovative R&B that draws from funk, electro-pop and rock, addressing agents of desire rather than objects of desire. He's a true disciple of Prince, wielding a guitar on certain songs and emphasizing that his music isn't bound by limits of genre or gender.
The crowd itself was a mix of genders, races, ages, couples and single folk – though the venue was not nearly filled to capacity. The Boulder stop was an odd headlining show while Miguel is on tour opening arenas for Sia. Perhaps the difference in scale contributed to the show's less expansive tone: In addition to not showing his abs, Miguel didn't play “Do You…,” nor did he dive into the audience to crowd-surf, which has become a staple of his live shows. Though his band sounded tight, he relied on a lot of backing tracks, which seemed to push the upper limits of the venue's sound system and resulted in muddled sound. The band itself remained shrouded behind screens throughout the set, with Miguel only acknowledging the musicians' presence at the end. Perhaps he does this in larger settings, but the performance could have benefited from more interaction with the band, in the manner of Miguel's great predecessors in soul like James Brown. He's already got the shouts and splits down.
Though the on-stage screens obscured the band, they did provide the surface for gorgeous projected images, which made it look like Miguel was serenading us from the orgasmic cosmos. Whether soaring through odes to deep connection like “Sure Thing” and “Coffee,” or doing a flirty bump-and-grind through “Waves” and “How Many Drinks?” like a woke-as-fuck Magic Mike, Miguel managed to explore a lot of sonic ideas while staying within his romantic subject matter.
Miguel said in a recent interview with NPR, “I can't write 'Come Through and Chill' every day because that's not how I feel every day,” and has been known to speak publicly on Black Lives Matter and release songs that address matters of police brutality and other social issues. In Boulder, however, Miguel steered clear of any overtly political songs in his catalogue. Instead, he chose to vaguely encourage the audience to take responsibility and create the world they want to live in. The most direct political message was delivered early in the set, when Miguel directed the crowd to raise two middle fingers in the air and chant “Fuck, Donald, Trump” in time with the groove.
While Miguel might speak in generalities, such as “Don't play yourself; be yourself,” his music lights a freaky path toward social enlightenment, which begins with basic respect – and a lot of fucking in the morning.
The video below is going viral today. It's not by Miguel, but we think he would agree with its message.
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Katie Moulton is a former Westword music editor. She's written about culture for alt-weeklies since 2009 and has also worked as a venue manager, radio DJ/producer and festival organizer. Her go-to karaoke jams are "Flagpole Sitta," by Harvey Danger, or "Ride Wit Me," by Nelly, which tells you a lot.