Miguel w/ Raquel Castro
Friday, August 19
Better than: Soggy fried dough.
Sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel, overlooking Rye Playland and some incoming dark clouds, the chances of Miguel taking the stage later that night didn’t look good. An hour and half later, as my plus one and I stood under an arcade awning trying to stay dry amid an hour-long downpour, those chances looked even worse. Finally, after the rain stopped and The Voice finalist Raquel Castro sang two quick songs (the first her own, the second Voice judge Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”) the R&B up-and-comer arrived, singing the hook to “Pay Me,” his debut album’s hardest track, and wearing, what else, sunglasses.
With its December release date Miguel’s All I Want Is You flew under the radar of critics and fans who had perhaps already met their annual R&B quota. Their loss—it’s an excellent record, a perfectly paced mixture of songs both fun and serious. Last week, Maura compared its hazed-out sound to that found on The Weeknd’s two 2011 mixtapes—and songs like “Girls Like You,” with its slow, stuck-on-a-loop bassline and lines like “I don’t wanna think, I just wanna drink” certainly make that case. But Miguel has an innocence that the latter artist lacks, not to mention a sense that the fog might someday lift. Even on “Girls Like You,” the moment Miguel keeps longing for is as simple as playing board games with the girl named in the title.
About halfway through his set (perhaps upon acclimating himself to not just to performing not just in front of a small crowd but also rollercoasters and a Ferris wheel) this inner light-heartedness began to appear. Not surprisingly, it revealed itself most fully on “Quickie,” his closing ode to casual, no-strings-attached sex. (And yes, he rhymes “quickie” with “no hickeys.”) As the song progressed, Miguel turned to different sections of the audience and did some old-fashioned hip gyration that even he couldn’t help smile at, before guitar, bass and drum solos made the song surprisingly intimate, almost as if to imply that the passionless hook-up described in the lyrics might not be possible after all.
Miguel’s only stumbles came before and after the J. Cole-featuring “All I Want Is You.” First, he segued into the song by repeating its title over and over; then he segued out of it by doing the same thing with the question “Do you want to change the world?” and concluding by imploring the crowd to “close your eyes and a make a wish.” Here, youthful optimism turned into the kind of shameless naivete that makes you groan and write “ugh” in your notebook.
Miguel ended his set without playing “Sure Thing,” his sole R&B number one hit and the song that attracted much of the crowd, but its “You could bet that/ Never gotta sweat that” hook brought him back out for one of the more predictable encores I’ve seen in recent memory. No complaints—he killed the song, letting it ride out with an unexpected chord progression that could have easily been lifted from a Jackson 5 outtake, suggesting that this, not “Quickie,” is the song with the truly happy ending.
Critical bias: Attempting to ride the Playland’s rollercoasters left me sore and dizzy. In other words, I’m getting old.
Overheard: “Her boobies fell out!”—the woman standing next to me under the awning, explaining that the sudden cheers during Raquel Castro’s set weren’t for the singer but for a slight wardrobe malfunction experienced by one of her back-up dancers.
Random notebook dump: According to the Rye Playland brochure, the video for Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” was filmed in the park. That made me very excited.