D'Angelo Rocks Paris Live: Photos + Full Recap From FWMJ x Mr. MASS!
D'Angelo? Live? In Paris? Yes, please.
It was just before Christmas last year that I got a call from my friend Gene.
“If you can square away tickets for us, I will use miles and points to get us flights and hotel rooms for the D’Angelo Tour in Europe.”
Not for a second did I assume he was joking, playing off everyone’s excitement about the surprise release of Black Messiah. I knew he was just as serious as I was about seeing D'Angelo perform this album.
I haven’t had a chance to see D’Angelo live since he toured his sophomore album Voodoo over 14 years ago. I missed out on the tour the weekend he and the Soultronics came to Houston, as I was out of town competing at a college track meet. Missing that tour--as well as the Okayplayer Tour--in the early 2000s are among my greatest regrets as far as missed opportunities as a music otaku. Gene had seen the Voodoo tour 4 times during that tour's run, so he knew what to expect. I could only imagine.
Not willing to risk D going AWOL and missing an opportunity to see him, I put in the call to a higher power (thank you based Ahmir!), secured tickets to the show in Paris and we were off.
Monday, the night of the show, my guy Gene and I emerged from the Port Maillot Metro stop before the massive Palais de Congrès complex. We showed up a little early to meet a friend that was attending the concert with us and to pick up our tickets at will call before things got too hectic. We entered the foyer to the Grand Amphitheatre to a gathering of giddy and nervous fans also there for the concert.
Once everyone we were attending the concert with arrived, we entered the amphitheatre and found our seats. Having called in this huge favour, we didn’t know what to expect but found ourselves 9 rows back from the stage, dead center.
Absolute perfect seats.
We weren’t so close that we were looking up D’s nostrils the whole show, but weren’t so far back that it was Ants vs. Termites on stage either. The sound would later surround us. It was perfect.
The amphitheater was pregnant with anticipation for the band to hit the stage, while the house speakers played a polite mix of low key instrumentals and local French hip-hop. The crowd would break out into random spikes of applause and clapping every time there was dead space in the mix between songs, as if that would hasten the band’s arrival. Don’t we all know by now D’Angelo moves at his own pace?
The lights dim and D’Angelo comes out solo center stage at the mic stand, a silhouette against four illuminated 30’+ banners of what looks like velvet draped from the rafters at the back of the stage as he sings the opening verse to “Prayer.”
The Vanguard sneaks on stage, one by one, under the cloak of darkness--and before you know it the entire band is there with him, moving and swaying like phantoms in the dark at their respective stations as they transition into “1,000 Deaths,” Khalil Abdul Muhammad speech and all. The spotlights finally rise to illuminate the band at the chorus to thunderous applause and cheers form the crowd.
At the song’s close, D’ picks up his guitar for “It Ain’t Easy,” the album’s starter, after which he introduces each member of the Vanguard to the crowd. By this point, men and women alike from the seats higher up in the amphitheatre had made their way down to the stage, flooding the aisles and reaching for D’, hands and arms outstretched.
“Let me know if y’all recognize this one!” D’ says to the crowd before launching into an alternate version of “Feels Like Making Love.” As the song’s instrumental fades, he leaves the stage and the lights dim as the strings from “Really Love” grow increasingly louder and louder. A spotlight hits Kendra Foster, who is dancing and spinning about in an ornate gold and black marble patterned winged jumper—a butterfly.
As Kendra recites the Spanish intro over the song’s strings, Sharkey switches to Acoustic guitar and plucks the songs unmistakable chords as Pino Paladino walking the bass and Chris "Daddy" Dave brings in the drums.
D’Angelo returns to the stage as Kendra is finishing, rocking a red and black lumberjack poncho—his first of serveral costume changes of the night. The crowd, in a trance, hums and mumbles and sings along with D’ in a collective sway.
“One Mo’ Gin”--one of my personal favourites from Voodoo--saw D’Angelo finally get behind the keys. By the songs end he was touching the outstretched hands of his Parisian fans eventually sitting on the edge of the stage singing an extended chorus before sliding into an alternate version of “Brown Sugar” whose lyrical familiarity elicited the crowd to sing along.
After another dimming of the lights, D’ returns with a black leather trench with a hoodie cloaking his face as the Vanguard launches into “The Charade” rivaling their performance on SNL. Subdued at first, the performance grows in intensity and volume by the first chorus, the crowd in sync with all four vocals “All we wanted was a chance to talk.” Beautiful to witness, 4,000 miles from home, still having this song and chorus resonate.
Riding the wave of energy from “The Charade” the band slides into “Sugah Daddy,” perhaps the most infectious groove on the entire album. By this point I really start to notice how much fun everyone on stage seems to be having. D’Angelo looks happy. Happy to be back. Happy to be performing. Happy to be sharing music he’s been toiling over for 15 years. The interplay between Pino and Chris is something to be felt and seen on this song. The entire band double claps at “…this the way I pat my baby on my butt (good god)” shortly before Kendra gets to lead the chorus before the second verse. The song is abruptly cut short to raucous cheers and applause from the audience as the band stands motionless soaking it all in, hardly able to contain their giddy smiles, before picking right back up with the same energy. If you were paying close attention, you could see Kendra’s smirk as she sang the song’s barely-decipherable “pussy fart” line, like a joke only a few were in on.
The performance seemingly ends, with the music dropping and D’Angelo does a lil jig/step/skank on stage before the Vanguard extends the groove to “Sugah Daddy” and everyone dances around on stage playing their instruments as if the center stage mic stand were a camp fire. Sharkey moves stage right to play along Jesse Johnson, Kendra sashaying stage left to join the other two backup singers, D’Angelo everywhere. I might have even seen some tambourines.
The crowd is electric. I don’t know how any of the other cities already hit by the band on this tour were, but I’m so glad we saw it in Paris. By now the crowed is screaming and clapping and chanting and the band leaves the stage. For 7 straight minutes the audience screams and pleads for the band to return, and sure enough they do—to “Back To The Future I & II”
Again, the give and take between Pino and Chris Dave is so crucial right here. I can’t decide in my mind if the “Back To The Future”s are supposed to function as interludes on the album, namely because of their length (aren’t interludes short?), but it’s definitely one of many high points on the project for me and seeing it get the extra life it’s getting from Pino is such a warm feeling. Witnessing D’Angelo sing about how things stay the same despite change back in Richmond, chasing highs, and strangers wondering about the shape he’s in (physically or mentally or spiritually) in such a seemingly comfortable way before such a large crowd—the cognitive dissonance is thick enough to choke on, considering all the lore and stories and articles out there speculating on his insecurities and demons.
The band smoothly weaves into “Chicken Grease.” As you can expect the guitars and bass get to solo out and play off each other, working the crowd into a fever pitch. With the frenzy at its peak, the band leaves the stage yet again. I could hardly hear myself think, Did they play "The Root" Yet? Are they gonna do "Lady?”--Wait, the show couldn’t really be over yet could it?
D’ and the Vanguard remerge from back stage for a 15 minute rendition of “Untitled” AKA “The-Song-Every-15-Year-Old-Walking-Around-Today-Was-Conceived-To." D’s control of the band’s movement and play has been masterful the entire night, and especially so during this song. Perhaps the song most sung-along-to by the audience that night, I looked around the audience and saw women at the point of tears during this performance. And when he let them know he “loves to make you wet, in between your thighs”? Outta here. Could have drowned in there, and I’m not talking about tears anymore.
Extending the chorus to the point it sounded as if a record was on loop asking the crowd “How Does It Feel?” each member of the band leaves the stage one by one. Chris Dave first. Sharkey Next. Jesse Johnson next. D’ transitions to the keys back, center stage. The two back up singers leave one by one, and then Kendra to heightened cheers and applause. Bass and Keys are all that’s left. Pookie leaves next, with D’Angelo and Pino remaining on stage. They play off each other for a few bars, and then Pino himself leaves with D’ alone under spotlight on keys recanting the chorus before answering the question himself and walking off into the darkness.
“Feels so good Paris.”