Some people are impossible to please.
During the encore chant at D’Angelo’s second London performance, a group of middle-aged men objected to the apparent regurgitation of old material. But in the same crowd I met people who had flown from New York to hear the “Chicken Grease” guitar lick for the first time in ten years. And while only two new songs made an appearance this was far from a recital of his two-album catalog. Drunk on funk and psychedelia the almost 2 1/2 set was a journey through black music. Jesse Johnson in a white-feathered hat – having rejoined the tour in Paris – channeled Jimi Hendrix through a 20-minute version of “Sh*t, Damn, Motherf*cker. D displayed newfound chops on the guitar that were more than worthy of a brief blues solo. James Brown was omnipresent all night. And D’Angelo makes no secret about the influence of Prince – especially on the new tracks “Charade” and “Sugar Daddy” (watch after the jump).
But the renditions of his now proven timeless material were in no way derivatives of these musical influences; D’Angelo stamped his personality all over the stage and the music. He performed with humor, sexuality and honesty and appeared profoundly happy to be back on stage. He smiled and laughed throughout the night.
But the fickle fans persisted. As we walked out of the Brixton Academy into a snowy London night, a young lady complained that D’Angelo needs to “get his body back.” But the wails of ecstasy from the rest of the women in the crowd as he slowly stripped back to a scant singlet–barely concealing a body that looked ready to compete in the Superbowl, confirmed that D still has the sexual potency of a pornstar. A woman next to me cried.
I have never seen a crowd so excited or bewitched by a performance. He had the audience laughing, couples were grinding and whispering in ears, and nearly everyone smiled throughout the show. The crowd’s favorite moment was when D’Angelo was left alone on stage with his piano. He crooned through “Brown Sugar”; “Jonz in my Bonz”; “Cruisin”; and “Untitled.” His voice was perfect. He can still beautifully mumble his was through the low end, his upper octaves were flawless and he screamed in perfect pitch all night.
D’s biggest smile, on the other hand, came when he conducted a gorgeous piece of audience participation. During the chorus of “Brown Sugar,” the men sang the hook, while the women provided the falsetto reprise.
This was a man who was back where he belonged. ?uestlove spoke of his anxiety about releasing the forthcoming album, journalists covering the tour have spoken of D’Angelo’s shyness and he hasn’t done a single interview. But on stage he is supremely comfortable.
Was it worth the wait for the fans? The tales of addiction and self-doubt have invested incredulity in a once unshakeable support base. But despite the doubters, if he continues to perform on that level–and new songs of that caliber continue to surface, the skeptics will be inaudible over the music.