The years that passed between D’Angelo releasing his 2000 sophomore LP, Voodoo, and 2014’s Black Messiah led many critics and fans to question whether the artist could ever relive his glory days as a leading force in R&B and soul. Those who think the artist’s elusiveness from the public eye affected his musical genius and stage presence should probably rethink that sentiment.
Simply put, D’Angelo has refined his craft. The Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader brought his tour, The Second Coming, to Atlanta, playing before a full standing house at The Tabernacle. Backed by his mega-talented band, The Vanguard, D’Angelo brought the house down with an epic, two-hour repertoire, combining subtle protests, jam sessions, Sunday morning church service and the intensity of a rock concert.
The exceptional musical talent born Michael Eugene Archer in Richmond, VA appeared on-stage refreshed and rejuvenated. Screaming concertgoers anticipating D’Angelo’s chiseled physique and toned arms that made him a sex symbol should put the thought in the back of their minds because musicianship reigns throughout the entire performance.
Joined at the hip to his spiked black guitar trimmed in diamond-like flare, D’Angelo wore thin plats as opposed to his signature cornrows. Minus theatrics or props, he underwent a few modest costume changes including a shredded olive-colored trenchcoat, a white fedora, a white-stripped, Zorro-styled shawl and all-black baggy attire.
It is easy to assume that D’Angelo’s personal demons, on top of his management and record label changes, may have trickled into the headlines and left some residue on his showmanship. This is certainly not the case.
The 41-year-old musician’s endurance and tenacity is enough to make the audience fully aware of his staying power. He is a constant student of music who has no qualms about paying respect to his influences. His high-pitched falsetto vocals directly reflect this tutelage of Prince’s vocal range. He riffs on his axe (guitar) like Jimi Hendrix or Carlos Santana. He vamps and cues The Vanguard, his band, with precision like James Brown.
Refusing to vanish and become a distant memory in black music folklore, D’Angelo’s echoing wails are a reenactment of a Baptist minister delivering a sermon while his backing vocalists’ rippling harmonies come off as animated and operatic as Parliament-Funkadelic. D’Angelo’s silhouette while seated behind his tower of electric pianos, would make Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone proud.
The Second Coming’s set list was comprised primarily of Black Messiah’s track listing. Preceded by an opening act, Aussie singer Meg Mac, D’Angelo’s show is exciting, energetic and full of musical chemistry. The whip-cracking, distorted funk rock selection, “Ain’t It Easy,” opened the show, one of the first of several moments where D’Angelo and Jesse Johnson, former guitarist for The Time, stand side by side, stage front, shredding strings.
“Betray My Heart” spotlighted guitarist Isaiah Sharkey’s Wes Montgomery-sounding chords backed by legendary bassist Pino Palladino’s rhythmic timing and Cleo “Pookie” Sample on keyboards. The horn section, comprised of Keyon Harrold and Kenneth Whalum III, gave The Second Coming its romantic, Miles Davis and John Coltrane-inspired croons.
The flamenco-infused soul ballad, “Really Love” preceded “The Charade,” featuring D’Angelo wearing a black hoodie, pumping his fist and namedropping several murdered black youth as the band stood with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” posture.
Soul clapping, funky drum loops courtesy of Chris “Daddy” Dave and an enchanted, black lace-clad Kendra Foster singing background were a constant. A 10-minute delay left the audience unmoved. When D’Angelo returned to the stage, he belted out the ballad, “Another Life,” with the essence of Marvin Gaye and Al Green followed by performances of “Back to the Future” and “Sugah Daddy.”
D’Angelo did not perform many songs from his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, or Voodoo, other than an uptempo rendition of “Brown Sugar,” “Spanish Joint,” “Left and Right,” an extended improvised performance of “Chicken Grease” and for the encore, “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).”
The Second Coming is proof that D’Angelo is this generation’s quintessential R&B and soul savior. He is the epitome of a modern legend, one who knows how to brilliantly incorporate Hip-Hop, soul, jazz, R&B, gospel, rock & roll, funk and blues into an invigorating body of work that respects the music that came before him and leaves his listeners craving more. Those 14 years may have left many curious, but it was time well spent.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for the BurtonWire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.
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