Meticulous and sexy but lacking real soul

D'Angelo | <i>Brixton Academy, London</i> Jimmy Scott | <i>Jazz Caf&Atilde;&copy;, London</i>
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The Independent Culture

He may have grown up on gospel music, the son and grandson of preachers, but there's been a rumour going round that it's the devil who's got all the best tunes, and I think it's reached soul and r'n'b sensation D'Angelo. In keeping with the theme of his recent Voodoo album, he and his 11-piece band, the Soulquarians, took to the stage shrouded in darkness, dry ice and long, black-hooded cloaks. There were a few false starts, but then the lights suddenly blazed, the cloaks came off (revealing feathery costumes like a cross between those of Earth Wind and Fire and the Village People) and they launched into "Devil's Pie", a song about, as far as I can tell, flirting with the temptations afforded by fame.

He may have grown up on gospel music, the son and grandson of preachers, but there's been a rumour going round that it's the devil who's got all the best tunes, and I think it's reached soul and r'n'b sensation D'Angelo. In keeping with the theme of his recent Voodoo album, he and his 11-piece band, the Soulquarians, took to the stage shrouded in darkness, dry ice and long, black-hooded cloaks. There were a few false starts, but then the lights suddenly blazed, the cloaks came off (revealing feathery costumes like a cross between those of Earth Wind and Fire and the Village People) and they launched into "Devil's Pie", a song about, as far as I can tell, flirting with the temptations afforded by fame.

D'Angelo wrote, produced and performed Brown Sugar - the distinctive debut album that first brought him fame five years ago - pretty much all by himself. He attracted a few more collaborators for Voodoo, including jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove and rapper Method Man, but still played and arranged most of the instruments himself, and none so well as his voice.

One part Snoop Doggy Dogg to two parts Prince, it's a smooth, seductive and lilting instrument with an impressive range which he used for all the backing vocals and harmonics as well as the melodies. The songs on Voodoo can be roughly split into two categories: there are all the songs about love and sex, and then there are the others. I'm not too sure what they're about - D'Angelo has a penchant for elision and the lyrics are pretty cryptic anyway - but whatever he's singing about, his voice always proclaims the same thing: I'm a sex machine.

But on stage, where a controlled, seductive tone won't work, D'Angelo makes that proclamation explicit, using the voice you only get sparingly on the albums - the one that's one part Prince to two parts James Brown. It's a voice more suited to lines like, "I want that funky shit", "You love me 'cause I'm funky", or simply, "Yeeeeeaaaaghhh". And to back it up, he's got the dance moves of Prince, James Brown and M C Hammer all rolled into one. With the Soulquarians providing the relentlessly funky beat, D'Angelo is free to roam the stage like a panther on heat, rubbing up against his microphone stand and performing rather suggestive one-armed press-ups. And then, as if to consummate the relationship with his audience, he leapt into the crowd, allowing them to tear his vest off to reveal a stomach that resembles, not so much a six pack, as an armour-plated shell.

Don't worry though, he had another three tight white vests waiting in the wings, in case of just such an eventuality. Almost as if he'd planned for it, in fact. Which he clearly had, along with the between-song banter he enjoyed with his band members and the Hendrix impersonation - snapping his microphone stand over his knee, kicking the drums over, that sort of thing - that he recovered from in time for the next song.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a meticulously planned stage show and, believe me, if I had a body like D'Angelo's, I'd show it to everyone I met. But with "Send it On" and "Untitled (How Does it Feel)" being the only two songs in which the tempo and volume dropped enough to distinguish the lyrics, there was none of the ambiguity or room for interpretation that makes his albums so intriguing. And without spontaneity, and with so much emphasis purely on spectacle, it felt like D'Angelo was merely giving a performance, as in acting artificially. A lot of funk, but, sadly, no soul to speak of.

Jimmy Scott has got some pretty funky moves of his own. A kind of shuffle from foot to foot and a Stevie Wonder-style roll of his head - not bad for someone who's been performing for nearly 60 years.

Born in Cleveland in 1925, his first recordings were made under the name of Little Jimmy Scott, on account of his being only four-feet-eleven. He was born with Kallmann's syndrome, a hormonal condition that affected his development and kept his voice at a sweet, high pitch. He actually shot up to five-feet-seven in his mid-30s and his voice has also deepened slightly over the years, so that he now sings at a similar register - and with a comparable tone - to Nina Simone. But while his androgyny is intriguing at first, within a couple of songs it's clear that it is the least remarkable aspect of his voice.

Throughout the 1980s, Scott was without a recording deal and probably thought his public performance days were over. But, rediscovered in the early 1990s by Warner Brothers and now signed to Milestone Records, he quite clearly loves every second he gets to perform. Which makes it all the more disquieting when he opens his mouth and lets out the most melancholy, heart-breaking music. Stretching words until it seems his voice must break under the strain, lingering on phrases from old songs whose meaning you thought had been lost, he saturates them with emotion.

While singing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", his papery face seemed to crumple and his voice had me convinced that there was indeed a sad and lonely child on the stage.

Apparently, Madonna once said that Scott is the only singer who could make her cry. She was probably being melodramatic, but it is certainly true that he gives a performance in the very best sense of that word.

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