Full disclosure: Black Messiah made me a D’Angelo fan. Yes, I respected and liked Voodoo and Brown Sugar, but they didn’t make a lasting impact. I blame that on being young, I was only 12 when Voodoo was released and that’s way too young to understand the impact of the video for Untitled (How Does It Feel?). After Black Messiah messed up all end-of-year-lists,1 I revisited those two albums and finally heard what everybody else already knew: D’Angelo is a one-of-a-kind musical genius. When I found out he was scheduled to play one of the most beautiful venues in the world -Paradiso, Amsterdam- I had to be there.
Almost an hour after the announced starting time, -but what’s an hour if you’ve been waiting fourteen years?- D’Angelo appears on stage. Hands together like a Drake tattoo, he starts off with Prayer. All he needed was one note. One note to win over even the most pessimistic person in the room. His voice sounds angelic, which is perfectly appropriate in a church-turned-music hall, performing a song called Prayer. When the tempo speeds up with the powerful 1000 Deaths, D shows his voice is not only heavenly, but also incredibly strong. Whether the notes are high or low, D’Angelo hits them perfectly. He connects with his fans -girls get a hand, guys a fist- which adds to D’Angelo’s attitude tonight: he is a full on rock star. For someone who has been out of the spotlights for so long, he looks damn comfortable on stage. He’s confident, and it isn’t hard to see why. Armed with two classic albums, the best record of 2014 and an all-star band, D’Angelo can conquer any crowd. D and The Vanguard, as the band is called, play like FC Barcelona at the height of their tiki-taka dominance. With Chris Dave (Adele, Maxwell) on drums, Pino Palladino (John Mayer, The Who, Eric Clapton) on bass and Jesse Johnson (former member of Prince-associated The Time) playing lead guitar, the music is perfect.2
What follows is two hours of music heaven. The show is choreographed but doesn’t feel like it and the band is to thank for that. They play like little kids in garages, full of enthusiasm with no signs of being bored by playing the same set night after night. As the show progresses, you get the feeling you’re watching Prince mixed with James Brown in their primes. Super funky renditions of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Making Love, Really Love and Alright lead to the stand-out track of Black Messiah, The Charade. The performance is more or less the same as his appearance on SNL, but seeing it live is a whole different experience. The poignant lyrics, (“All we wanted was a chance to talk / Instead we only got outlined in chalk”) are more audible than on the record3, which makes the impossible possible: improve an already perfect song.4
When Sugah Daddy, after being stretched out into a ten minute jam, is finished and D’Angelo leaves, I would have been completely satisfied if D wouldn’t return to the stage. But he comes back to give us more funk. Both parts of Back To The Future and two great tracks of Voodoo (Left & Right and a sped-up version of Chicken Grease) close the 120 minute set to a frenzied crowd.
And then he comes back. Again. To perform Untitled (How Does It Feel?). Because of course he does. I was worried he wouldn’t do the song that made him a sex symbol and sent him into his ‘dark’ period.5 But he does. And he delivers. After more than two hours of uncompromising funk, D’Angelo shows he hasn’t forgotten about his soulful history. One by one, the band members leave the stage, until D is the only one left on stage, sitting behind his keyboard. With a last couple of How does it feel?‘s, the second coming is complete.
D’Angelo really is the Black Messiah.
- Except mine. Being late sometimes has its advantages. ↩
- To continue the Barcelona analogy, I’d say D’Angelo is Messi, Chris Dave is the equivalent of Xavi, Pino Palladino would be Carles Puyol and that leaves Johnson to be Iniesta. Not a bad line-up. ↩
- If this is your biggest problem with Black Messiah, you really should see this show. Where D’Angelo sometimes hides his voice on record, he’s perfectly audible on stage. ↩
- I just described 30 minutes of the show and skipped Brown Sugar, that’s how amazing this show is. ↩
- There are plenty of unconfirmed stories about alcohol addiction and depression from those years. On top of that, he’s been arrested for drunk driving and soliciting a female police officer. ↩