The role of the soul singer is slippery. Like a shape-shifter, the front man can take on many forms: the lothario (Barry), the political critic (Sly), the funky prankster (George), the mysterious mystic (The Purple One), and the eclectic bohemian (Erykah), to name a few. On Sunday night at the Fox, D’Angelo gave nods to each, switching up his outfits and inspirations throughout a nearly two-hour set of simmering, soulful funk.
For a sold-out show, the crowd trickled in slowly, thanks in part to the Warriors devastating OT loss. As a result, many missed the opening act, upcoming singer-songwriter Meg Mack, and instead were greeted by Dilla beats to up the ante of anticipation. It was as if The Ummah was in the house, and the crowd was keyed up. It had been more than 15 years since D’Angelo rocked a stage in Oakland. People were ready for the house lights to start dimming.
To bring the lushness of The Black Messiah
, to life, D’Angelo rolls with a 10-piece band, aptly titled The Vanguard. From the jump with “Ain’t That Easy,” the outfit showed off its JB’s-like precision, helping make the modern Godfather comparison even stronger. Longer than the album cut, the opener let the band stretch out and lock in to an airtight groove.
From there, the electric energy never let up, even in quiet moments. One of the singers, P-Funk alum Kendra Foster, performed a surprising ballet before “Really Love,” and the room hung on every move. Bassist Pino Palladino's droning, pulsing beat amplified the moment's drama.
D’Angelo himself was as dynamic as his supporting cast. He bounced around the stage, playing guitar, sitting at the keys, and smoothly gliding and commanding the crowd as a soul MC.
By running through almost all of The Black Messiah
, some radio classics fell by the wayside. “Lady” and the DJ-Premier produced “Devil’s Pie” got nixed, but early single “Brown Sugar” made an appearance late in the set to satiate the old-school heads.
As an ode to chron, the jam was a party-oriented counterpoint to his more politically charged material. Although “1000 Deaths” wasn’t played, the song’s spirit was felt all night. “We do this for Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant and countless others,” said D’Angelo.
While he dished out references to the past pool of funk greats—he quoted Sly Stone’s “Gangsta funk! Gangsta boogie” line and briefly covered Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead”—he closed out the show as only he could: “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” with the accompanying sex symbol visuals, put him on an extended vision quest that led to this comeback album. Playing it on Sunday showed how far the journey has taken him, and that it’s been a fulfilling trip.
D’Angelo conjured up aspects of funk’s past, but made it clear that he’s the modern maestro of the game.