D’Angelo’s magnum opus Voodoo, released over a decade ago, sits in every modern music lover’s collection as one of the greatest contemporary R&B albums ever recorded. Since 2000, he battled drug addiction, alcohol abuse, legal trouble and record company politics. Beaten, battered and bruised, (even D himself admitted he struggled with his demons), the future looked bleak. However, late last year he did what is now termed ‘a Beyoncé’ and saw out 2014 with his latest project Black Messiah. Stepping out to a stripped down version ‘Prayer’ D’Angelo joins his hands and harmonises near-spiritually through the intro and offers the O2 Apollo his latest gift as the Neo Soul God we all know and love in The Second Coming Tour.
‘Prayer’ builds up and flows effortlessly into ‘1000 Deaths,’ D quite literally stomping and strutting his way into the groove. The eight-strong band, better known as The Vanguard pick up the pace and flicker into a Hendrix-esque crunchy guitar-led funk jam. Lead guitarist Jesse Johnson (formally one of Prince’s associates from the band The Time) brings an overdrive of electricity to the passage whilst legendary bassist Pino Palladino teases the bassline periodically. Robert Glasper’s drummer Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave keeps the band ticking over on percussion whilst backup singer Kendra Foster provides welcome ad-libs and random dancing between the jam.
What is to be noted is that, given D’Angelo’s long absence from the stage it is genuinely heart-warming to see the guy smiling and doing what he loves. He can evidently still hit those vocal ranges we first heard on ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ and ‘Lady’ all those years ago, however his style is more refined now; the Virginia native is a vintage showman. He leads The Vanguard with authority and each musician tentatively awaits his orders. D utilises a classic funk staple, by holding three or four or five (or 25) fingers in the air which are met by a respective number of ‘hits’ by the Vanguard. Essentially, most of the tracks performed on the night are just extended live jams of the originals, which is superb to witness a handful of times however become a little over-generous and played-out by the end of the gig.
Crooning his way through the Spanish-guitar led ‘Really Love,’ his eternal ‘Brown Sugar’ and lead single from Black Messiah ‘Sugah Daddy,’ it feels like the band might be missing something. A live brass section in certain parts would’ve given his sound a more rounded feeling. Missing out ‘Cruisin’’ and personal favourite ‘Send It On’ it’s surprising he didn’t dedicate more time to a longer set list, however hearing ‘One Mo’gin’ and ‘Chickengrease’ softened the blow to an extent. His vocals seemed to get stronger as the night went on, delving deeper and deeper into his inner James Brown. For all the velvet-soft ballads we’ve grown to hear, he doesn’t shy away from channelling those funk-soul screams made famous by the Godfather of Funk
It’s hard to dislike him, even if the passages continue for too long. His charm is perceptibly evident by the second (yes second) encore. D’Angelo truly leaves the best ‘til last as he twinkles on his piano to his sensual classic ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’. It feels fitting that each of The Vanguard slowly disappear from the stage before it’s just the crowd and the main man singing in unison together to the timeless soul ballad. It’s wistful, sexy and electric all in one and typifies the essence of his performance; the aptly titled Second Coming Tour has brought full circle the resurrection of the R&B Jesus that is D’Angelo.[review]