A whole lot of heart and soul

D'Angelo | Brixton Academy | London
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The Independent Culture

In an ever-changing pop landscape, Michael D'Angelo Archer, 25-year-old native of Richmond, Virginia, has defied trends by taking a five-year sabbatical only to return bigger and better than before, at least if his current predilection for posing bare-chested offers any clues. His 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, far less antiseptic than much Nineties R'n'B, was a huge success, and this year's belated follow-up, Voodoo, has already topped the US charts.

In an ever-changing pop landscape, Michael D'Angelo Archer, 25-year-old native of Richmond, Virginia, has defied trends by taking a five-year sabbatical only to return bigger and better than before, at least if his current predilection for posing bare-chested offers any clues. His 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, far less antiseptic than much Nineties R'n'B, was a huge success, and this year's belated follow-up, Voodoo, has already topped the US charts.

He was hardly inactive for that period, collaborating with talents as disparate as BB King, Eric Clapton and Lauryn Hill, singing the national anthem before the Holyfield-Lewis bout, and even finding time to father two children.

All good preparation, then, for his new album, a definite step forward even if its occasionally long jams, reminiscent of Prince and Marvin Gaye at their most soulful, sometimes wander, along with the listener's attention. Its creator sees himself as part of a wider tradition of American black music which long predates the hip-hop scene which originally spawned him, even choosing to record in Jimi Hendrix's legendary Electric Lady studios.

The real truth, though, is that, fine voice and arrangements aside, D'Angelo is something of a hunk. Allegedly, female staff at his record company have watched the video for his recent single "Untitled" in a locked room, and tonight's audience, a fantastically civilised bunch, is eager to see this highly rated, quivering hunk of manflesh.

Despite the intentionally mysterious start - hooded figures wandering about the stage, undefined electronic music - as soon as the lights come up, the audience knows it is going to get a show. Opener "Devil's Pie", on record a stark, gloomy analysis of urban America's ills, is almost tearful. Entertainment is the key. There's even a huge shriek when D'Angelo discards his leather greatcoat.

What follows is simply a living tribute to the best traditions of soul. Roberta Flack classic "Feel like making love", stately on record, transmutes itself into something like Sly and the Family Stone. With the James Brown horn section. At one point, a trombone solo becomes an air-raid siren - surely not a trick learnt from Motörhead.

There's so much in the mix here - Stevie Wonder, Marvin, even Trouble Funk - but it's easy to dismiss D'Angelo as a mere revivalist. He's his own man, and how. Sexual callisthenics with the air got the crowd moaning "lucky air", and a brilliant band, especially drummer Ahmir Thompson of The Roots, diffident yet always spot on, matches his every move.

D'Angelo is a star, a band leader without ego, and this four-vest show saw the best kind of well-lubricated crowd go home happy. Those screams were real.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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