A friendly trio of young women observed your correspondent reading a Patricia Highsmith novel before Miguel came on. One commented that I looked like the person on the cover, which it pained me to point out to her meant she had just likened me to a drowned corpse. Then the lights went down and we all turned our attention to the stage, where a much more virile specimen of masculinity arrived to screams from the mainly female audience. It was the latest R&B sensation from the US, over to seduce the UK on his first European tour.
Miguel Pimentel – who, like one of his chief inspirations, Prince, goes by his first name – is a slow starter. The LA singer’s first album, 2010’s All I Want Is You, saw its release delayed for two years by contract problems; he spent the interim moonlighting as a professional songwriter. Then came last year’s Kaleidoscope Dreams, which got rave reviews and was a top five hit in the US. It has turned Miguel, 27, into the sort of star who can cause delirium simply by taking his shirt off.
His debut London show also took a while to get going. Having spent “12 boring hours in a plane”, Miguel seemed keen to share the effects of jetlag, slowing down “Sure Thing” to a soporific crawl as his band thudded along. But then off came his jacket, to sighs of appreciation from the stalls, and the singer’s falsetto charm began to work its magic.
“Use Me” was a sweetly sung seduction routine with a winning hint of vulnerability, Miguel imploring his conquest to allow him to turn the lights off as “it’s the very first time/And I’m nervous”. The shirt was removed for a salaciously titled but sensitively delivered slow number in which the singer displayed the Prince-like trick of being suggestive without being boorish. “Am I moving too fast?” he crooned in “How Many Drinks?”, underlining his considerate-lover persona.
The music combined romantic blandishments with artistic ambition. The woozy ambience of “Candles in the Sun” recalled the bold work of Miguel’s LA contemporary Frank Ocean, while “Where’s the Fun in Forever”, co-written with Alicia Keys, was an upbeat exercise in soul classicism. “You’re making me feel like meat,” he joked when he put his shirt back on, to boos. There’s more to Miguel than meets the eye.