It is rare for a musician to tour for the sole purpose of self-expression, without the strings of album promotion, merchandising or publicity; then again, California-based blues-funk-rock singer Miguel is not your average musician. As he pivoted across The Anthem’s stage on Tuesday night, Miguel appeared to be in his own world — equal parts psychedelic and grounded, political and apolitical, fantastical and realistic. He succeeded in creating an inclusive, loving concert environment, allowing audience members to participate in the masterpiece rather than just witness it.
Accompanying Miguel on his “The Ascension Tour” is Canadian rhythm and blues duo dvsn, whose latest album, “Morning After,” was released in 2017. Pairing well-known singles like “Mood” from “Morning After” with covers of fellow R&B classics like Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” dvsn’s performance was marked by effortless falsettos and evocative, colorful background visuals. The group’s slow, sensual melodies provided a fitting contrast to Miguel’s more pop-infused dance tracks, while their themes of unrestrained sexual expression and romantic turmoil mimicked Miguel’s intensity and occasional erotic energy.
Unlike last year’s “War & Leisure” promotional tour, 2018’s “The Ascension Tour” is not associated with a specific album. Instead, Miguel told Tuesday’s audience that he “wanted to be real” and “share whatever is in my mind.” His lack of allegiance to a particular sound enabled Miguel to freely perform any song in his discography, and he frequently paused to engage with audience members — a beautiful blend of genders, ages and ethnicities — as well as showcase his nimble guitar playing and seamless dance moves.
Even before beginning his set, Miguel’s confidence and static energy permeated throughout The Anthem. As his platform rose above the stage, Miguel maintained his poised, mannequin-like posture — only breaking character when the beat to “What’s Normal Anyway” from his 2015 album “Wildheart” began. In that moment, Miguel broke free, expressing the inner turmoil of a child “too black for the Mexicans” and “too broke for the rich kids.” In the background, a vibrant outline of a human head appeared, symbolizing Miguel’s willingness to verbally express the inner workings of his colorful and sometimes painful memories.
As the concert progressed, Miguel found new ways to open himself up to his audience, whether through choreographed interactions with his fierce, feminine background performers or off-the-cuff conversations with the crowd. While singing “Harem” from 2017’s “War & Leisure,” targeted green and red lights illuminated the stage, evocative of the “bright love” Miguel speaks of in the song. Following the performance, Miguel paused to encourage audience members to release their inhibitions and embrace pure sound, announcing that “tonight is about going beyond the limits.”
Rejoicing in Miguel’s celebration of identity, the crowd adopted a new aura for the second half of the concert, letting their bodies move naturally to the beats and vocalizing their satisfaction. Individuals raised their drinks in the air during “How Many Drinks?,” a track from Miguel’s 2012 album “Kaleidoscope Dream,” and swung their hips to the hauntingly sultry lines of “Come Through and Chill” from “War & Leisure.”
Miguel commented on his lack of new music for the “The Ascension Tour” tour, only to surprise the audience with a new single, “So I Lie,” about the tendency to filter our lives on social media and hide our true selves from the world.
After performing “Adorn,” a slow-jam romantic tune from “Kaleidoscope Dream,” Miguel once again paused to address the crowd, this time calling for the audience to grab a partner and prepare to spend the rest of the night dancing heavily. His call to action was paired with a note on consent, warning men to keep their hands off the ladies in the crowd.
The last 30 minutes of Miguel’s set contained hit after hit, as Miguel seamlessly transitioned back and forth between some of his most popular songs like “Coffee,” Vixen” and “Got Friends.” Despite the constant lighting and rhythm changes, Miguel never missed a beat and the audience, feeding off his undeniably electric charm, stayed in sync with him. Just like the rest of his set, Miguel’s ending blast of music played with duality, pairing perfectly crafted vocals with organic dance moves.
One of the final songs of the night, the 2018 single “Remind Me to Forget,” encompassed the concert’s ethos. The juxtaposition of the song’s electronic dance-beat and deep-cutting lyrics of “It doesn’t matter where you are, you can keep my regret” encompasses Miguel’s formation of complexities. While Miguel encouraged audience members to forget their troubles, his politicized slogans like “legalize ascension” and discussions of race and sexual assault inherently call for remembrance. His performance at The Anthem on Tuesday proved the possible dynamism of music and artistic expression; for the night, the crowd got to join Miguel on his bridge between two worlds, forget the bad of the world and remember the good.