Few artists have risen from the ashes in recent years quite so magnificently as D’Angelo.
From Drake’s surprise LP (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late) drop to recent offerings from Prince and Kanye West, hip hop and funk seem to be undergoing a hopeful, glorious renaissance in the US.
In the midst of this is D’Angelo’s long-awaited Black Messiah, an unheralded album that was worth the 15 year wait.
He reaches a halfway point on Black Messiah’s "1000 Deaths", the second track of the night, before his band the Vanguard – including the Time’s Jesse Johnson on lead guitar and formidable British bassist Pino Palladino – stops and the 41-year-old spreads his hands wide, head tilted up, drinking in the roar of applause that follows.
Referring to past heroes without trying to appropriate their genius (why bother when he has plenty of his own), D’Angelo seems happy to revisit history.
"Brown Sugar" from his 1995 LP is cheeky and playful; "Chicken Grease" is fuelled by a finger-clicking rhythm, and "Lady" suddenly seems to have pre-empted Prince’s typically erotic "CLOUDS" on ART OFFICIAL AGE.
For "Really Love" – which stands out even on an album like Black Messiah – there’s a hush as Isaiah Sharkey picks fleeting, romantic notes on Spanish guitar before D’Angelo’s voice comes in, both reverent and lust-filled: invoking imagery of an unmade bed, light streaming through curtains that are half-closed.
Various leather jackets embellished with studs, chains, and an American flag are slipped over D’Angelo’s simple black vest and off again throughout the night.
Stalking the stage through songs that are pure sex; that scream carnal lust and invite such screams from the crowd, he flashes grin after irrepressible grin and sings to female audience members as he gazes right into their eyes. He is utterly irresistible, and why should anyone resist a man who makes music this good?
"Sugah Daddy" stretches out into the most insane, delicious funk jam; a groove of legendary proportions that stops and starts, leading and misleading: explosive, wild, free and joyful, while D’Angelo gives classic James Brown style shouts of "Take me to the bridge!" and orders counts that go from two to five to 10 and all the way up to 20.
"Charade" has a power of its own: a protest song that speaks of bodies "outlined in chalk", haunted by the recent killings of two unarmed black men by white police officers in America, which prompted that early release of Black Messiah in December 2014.
One encore is followed by a second, along with a broken curfew (like anyone gives a damn), until the night closes with "Untitled". Crooning "how does it feel?", one by one the members of the Vanguard melt offstage, until D’Angelo is left alone at his baby Yamaha, reflective and blissful.
Although he says he isn’t the "Black Messiah" from his album, there is no doubt that D’Angelo has inspired a sublime kind of worship in a tour so appropriately titled the Second Coming. Bow down, listen.
You can listen to D'Angelo on our Spotify playlistReuse content