I have seen James Brown. I have seen Prince. Now I have seen D’Angelo.
This ain’t hype. The enigmatic architect of neo-soul has breaks between albums that are long enough for Jupiter to circle the sun and his live performances happen only slightly more often. But the man and his show are worth the wait.
D’Angelo has been described as somewhat shy and brooding, but onstage he glows with confidence and charisma. The show isn’t just the singer, though. D’Angelo is more a bandleader than a frontman, and what a band he has assembled—tight players working like a well-oiled machine. The Vanguard includes original Time guitarist Jesse Johnson, Goodie Mob/Raphael Saadiq-associated vocalist Joi Gillam and bass ace Pino Palladino—valued sideman for artists from The Who to Adele.
The shimmering “Betray my Heart” put a post-modern spin on old-school Motown, with D’Angelo and his backing singers harmonizing and gliding through dance moves that were synchronized but still somehow seemed spontaneous. Other numbers from his recent disc, Black Messiah, included a powerful, jazzy “The Charade” (dedicated to Michael Brown) and “Chicken Grease,” which built into a head-bobbing, ass-shaking groove. He also reached back for his breakout hit, the seductive, “Brown Sugar,” flowing it into a funky “Sugah Daddy”
He swaggered out for an encore of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” with a grin on his face and a blue fedora tipped over one eye. After an extended, slow-burning jam, each member of the band took a solo before exiting, leaving D’Angelo alone. Whether leading a ten-strong band or solo behind a piano, D’Angelo commands the stage, evolving past artist into legend. ★★★★★
Photos by Erik Kabik/ ErikKabik.com