At the Joy Theater Tuesday night, the libidinous R&B singer asked us to join him.

miguel photo by patrick ainsworth
Miguel at the Joy Theater, by Patrick Ainsworth

Miguel blasted onstage at the Joy Theater Tuesday night with the energy of someone who loves his life right now. Dressed in ripped white jeans and an open white jacket with white feathers on the sleeves, his energy bordered on too much for the moment as he gave everybody the full Miguel. He smiled, posed, danced, and showed off his cut chest and abs with the adrenaline of someone feeling like this is his moment. His new album, Wildheart, is a success and a clear statement of who he is, and its first single, “Coffee,” is climbing the charts. 

Wildheart isn’t a concept album, but it’s conceptually coherent as it advocates following your own inner compass (in bed, particularly—a tag that could be added to most thoughts about Miguel just as it can to fortune cookies). At one point, he asked the crowd to raise their hands and take the Wildheart pledge of allegiance. “I swear I will never conform,” the audience repeated, and throughout the night, Miguel explained the concept with the gravity and assurance of one who found his religion. “Wildheart knows itself,” he said. “Find your path because it’s your path alone.”

Knowing itself means embracing what “it” is, which is Miguel’s case is the child of a Mexican-American father and an African-American mother. He spoke about the challenge as a child in school of figuring out what box to check when forms asked for his ethnic identity, and might as well have started the sentence with “Wildheart” when he intoned, “I’ve learned to embrace my own diversity.” All of that came as an introduction to “What’s Normal Anyway?” the album’s centerpiece. The song explored all the ways that he fell through the cracks of identity, and when he performed it, the rear video screen ran photos of fans with mixed-race identities as if to say that all those who feel as alone as he did aren’t alone.

miguel photo by patrick ainsworth Miguel, by Patrick Ainsworth (click on photos to enlarge)

 

The Wildheart mechanism felt preachy though. and Miguel made a far better case for being Wildheart when he was at his most Miguel. When he compulsively flirted, preened, teased and rocked, you wanted whatever he had. When he sang, “I don’t want to be loved / I just want a quickie,” he made it sound like a good, healthy, centered approach. (in bed). 

On album and live, Wildheart is polyamorous, jumping into bed with any attractive sound and style. That eclecticism manifested in a sound that drew as much from pop and hard rock and funk, soul and hip-hop. Almost every song gained muscle live, largely from guitarist Dru Decaro, who was the third-most dynamic performer onstage next to Miguel and Miguel’s abs.

miguel photo by patrick ainsworth Miguel, by Patrick Ainsworth

 

Wildheart is also fascinated by where it’s from. He’s from Los Angeles, and in many of the songs on the album try to get to the grittier realities behind Hollywood dreams (in bed). The interplay between images and what’s behind them felt like one that was trying to manifest itself onstage on Tuesday, and others may say it did. For me, the revelations of Miguel’s anxieties and loneliness came off as more image construction, but that may simply be the challenge created by performed confession. How do you make it sound like it’s not just more of the performance?

Miguel’s eclectic sound and subject matter (in bed) invite comparison to Prince, and throughout the show, I wondered if seeing Miguel now was akin to seeing Prince circa Dirty Mind when no one was quite sure what to do with him. It seemed to say a lot that when Miguel left the stage at the end of the set, there was little applause but there was equally little traffic toward the exits. No one seemed sure if they loved it or not, but they knew they wanted more. 

 

miguel photo by patrick ainsworth Miguel, by Patrick Ainsworth

miguel photo by patrick ainsworth Miguel, by Patrick Ainsworth