Words by Jerome Zech // Photos by Justin Yee
There are countless stories over time of artists that make a lasting first impression, take a leave of absence & never quite sound the same again. How many classic albums have you heard, where the follow-up is “not as good as the first one,” or the quality isn’t what you’re accustomed to?
None of these rules apply to D’Angelo, regardless of how many setbacks & roadblocks come his way.
I don’t know that there has ever been an artist quite like this in our lifetime. Since the release of Brown Sugar in 1995, he’s been revered as the savior of soul – an instant icon that challenged pop culture, with a unique sound of his own. He carried this momentum through his second studio album (Voodoo), which was another massive success. While it seemed that D’Angelo was set to take the music industry to new heights, nobody expected what would happen next.
Fifteen years of (almost) complete silence left his devoted fan base in the dark. Rumors of a new album never came to fruition, and many (like myself) had all but given up. Then, seemingly out of nowhere & without warning, D’Angelo drops a bomb – D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s Black Messiah. Overall, it’s the perfect continuation from Voodoo – a triumph in its own right. While slightly more “grown man” this go-around, this is the D’Angelo we know & the album we’ve been waiting for all along.
Sunday night at the infamous Fox Theater in Oakland was one of the biggest and best celebrations possible. Start to finish, there was a feeling in the room of anticipation & complete, unfiltered excitement – a person even passed out next to me at one point (seriously).
The set started with choice album cuts & singles from the new LP, including “Really Love” & “Betray My Heart.” Not only was his new album well represented, but D’Angelo did an excellent job of sprinkling in some of classic material along the way as well. “Brown Sugar” & “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” were two of the more special moments – the latter ending the show with the sold out theater singing along at the top of their collective lungs.
There were also several elements of impromptu jamming with members of The Vanguard, reminiscent of James Brown & the J.B.’s (even a little Prince at times) – including shouting out the band throughout and breaking off into dance routines with his backup singers. He must have changed wardrobes ten times and played on a handful of different guitars (seemingly whenever he felt like it). Every voice fluctuation and note was hit to perfection too. So much so, that it sounded like a studio recording – not the first show of his first headlining tour in fifteen years.
Personally, I’ve never witnessed a better performance in my life, nor do I think this will ever be topped. He is one of the greatest artists of our generation, and this was his return to the spotlight (where he belongs). You could feel how special this accomplishment was for D’Angelo too. He continued to thank the crowd throughout & had to stop himself at times to soak it all in.
Two ground-shaking encores later, and one thing was pretty clear – D’Angelo was back. Happy, healthy, and entirely reinvigorated.