Miguel just wants you to be yourself. Much of his sold-out Sunday-night show at cavernous Hell’s Kitchen venue Terminal 5 was spent sermoning the crowd about not succumbing to conformity and staying steady on one’s own path. He repeatedly mentioned how that was the reason he named his recently released, critically acclaimed third album Wildheart: because he has been on a mission of self-discovery, and he has made a commitment to staying true to Miguel.
It shows. What unfolded over the hour and a half he was onstage was an unadulterated release, unencumbered by the need to look cool — although he did. The L.A. singer — who took the stage in white jeans, a white leather jacket with feathers adorning the arms, and a bare chest — never stopped moving. It was all the spinning, dipping, diving, and skipping that kept Miguel so compelling in a club where the sound and sightlines are notoriously terrible.
And while his onstage kinetics were a prime part of the show, he wasn’t the only one so moved by the music. Miguel’s backing band emitted equal amounts of energy, his synth and MPC players dancing and hyping when they weren’t performing and his guitarist and bassist rocking like hair-metal musicians in their prime. It never once felt like they were there to hide behind the main attraction; they performed as if it were their music, too. Miguel’s appreciation for others’ talents must mean that he couldn’t be onstage with people who weren’t feeling everything just as much as he does.
The night was also littered with tributes to other performers. The first instance came early in the show, after the band ran through some material from the new album, as well as “Sure Thing” and “Girls Like You” — which is when Miguel and the players behind him truly became connected to one another — from his debut album, All I Want Is You. Miguel sneaked off for a wardrobe change — no doubt with all that dancing in an A.C.-less venue, taking off a leather jacket becomes an emergency — while Fetty Wap’s “My Way” played. The band seamlessly wove Wildheart bonus track “gfg” into Drake’s guest verse, as if the crowd never needed to be distracted from Miguel’s quick absence. “gfg” is about beseeching a “good fucking girl” to get wild for the night, but it was played in tandem with Kaleidoscope Dream closer “Pussy Is Mine” and a bit of an odd move. There is such a stark difference between trying to get your partner to be more sexually adventurous and being so insecure in your relationship that you have to nose around for confirmation of fidelity. But in the context of being performed by someone so unhindered by his own reality, it didn’t matter, and the crowd sang loudly to “Pussy” even though it’s kind of a weird one to hear sung by a chorus of nearly all women because of its possessiveness.
The album version is an acoustic demo, but, played electrified, it became even more of a bold statement of want. Elsewhere Miguel experimented with arrangements, particularly with “How Many Drinks?” Another one with dubious lyrical content — “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?/Yeah, you look good and I got money/But I don’t wanna waste my time” — but equally crowd-pleasing, the song found Miguel and his band slowing things down and stretching out into a full jam session, as they were prone to do, which in this case ultimately inspired Miguel to sing the final chorus while crowd-surfing. When he finally returned to the stage, he said to his audience, “We just had a real moment. We experienced something real together.” Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether those awe-striking moments are manufactured by the artist for the sake of evangelism, but with so much proselytizing about being yourself, it’s more likely he caught a bit of inspiration than anything else.
Another way he expressed his appreciation for his fans occurred before Wildheart centerpiece “what’s normal anyway.” Explaining to the crowd the alienation he felt growing up half-Mexican, half-black, he revealed that the backdrop — which had mostly rotated between celestial landscapes and portraits of his heavily tattooed chest — for the song would be a collage of photos his fans sent him so he could see the diversity of his audience. Miguel, ultimately, has more hippie in him than most r&b singers who write lines like “I wanna fuck like we’re filming in the Valley,” but he was able to strike a balance in between so much overly positive stage chatter. At one point, Tupac’s “I Get Around” played as Miguel and his guitarist rapped to each other before they transitioned with the lyric “Don’t be picky, just be happy with this quickie” into Miguel’s All I Want Is You track “Quickie.” It was a real boon for fans who have been there since the beginning.
Despite Kaleidoscope Dream and Wildheart both being designed for live play, especially the latter’s “waves,” which turned the V.I.P. section into a frenzy of shaking hips and clapping hands, the songs Miguel seemed most thrilled to play were from his debut. While they lean more toward electronic-produced pop, he looked invigorated to perform the numbers that got him started in a huge room with a full band. When you’re at a point in your life where being yourself is paramount, it’s a wonder that you’d want to go back to art created almost half a decade earlier. For Miguel, ownership is key, and what he presented at Terminal 5 was a celebration of music, love, and — most importantly — being present in the moment.