On Friday night R&B/pop star Miguel kicked off his “Wildheart” tour at Emo’s and a few things were evident from the jump. First off, the compactly built singer has one of the best voices of in the game right now. He has fantastic range and power, whether belting out a sexy hook or sliding through silky falsetto arpeggios. Second, he’s been studying his Prince notes in the best possible way. Beyond, adopting a relentlessly artistic approach to composition, the way he commanded the stage, the white fringes of his open jacket flourishing with each wave of his arms as he danced freely was reminiscent of the “Purple Rain” era — the magical moment when an artist captures the imagination of a nation.
To that point, the most striking thing about Miguel’s performance was the philosophical underpinnings behind it. Miguel has said his excellent new album “Wildheart” is an “ode to love of self.” This was an idea he expanded upon again and again at Emo’s. After an opening montage with a celestial backdrop and a segue through his 2010 hit “Sure Thing,” he paused to graciously thank the crowd for their support. Then he broke down what it means to have a “Wildheart.”
“Wildheart is knowing who you are and where you belong in this world,” he said. “You can only go as far as you allow yourself to dream. The only ceiling is the one you place above yourself.”
That idea of gathering the courage to follow your heart and find your own voice guided the show. After an emotional rendition of “Hollywood Dreams” he explained that growing up in L.A. he was surrounded by a landscape marked by “hope and desperation.” He encouraged the audience claim ownership of their own journey. “We all want the same things,” he said. “We all want love and understanding and the way that looks for each and every one of us is different, and different is OK.”
The idea was most poignantly spelled out with “What’s Normal Anyway,” a song that finds Miguel explaining his own struggle to come to terms with his identity as a mixed race person (he’s half Mexican and half black) and as a social misfit. The backdrop while he sang was a beautifully diverse collage of fan-submitted photos.
The show wasn’t all serious. He invited a group of ladies to dance onstage with him R-rated booty club anthem “Gfg.” There were plenty of moments of arena rock bombast and set closer “Face the Sun,” was an epic, tear-stained love ballad of panty-tossing proportions. But he always returned to the idea of finding your “Wildheart.” By the end of the show he was even addressing the audience as “Wildhearts.”
After a massive encore that started with “Coffee” and wound through an “Adorn” remix that slipped in samples of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” he drove the point home one last time. “Wherever you go on your path, you should feel good where you stand,” he said. “(Expletive) normality, support individuality.”
In this particular moment in American history, fraught with racial tension and littered with dashed hopes, his music and his message offer a beacon to young people. He is exactly the pop star we need.