Revival. Renewal. Resurrection. Repast. All synonymous with the Black church. And all are persistent, living, breathing memes throughout D’ Angelo & The Vanguard’s, The Second Coming Tour.
After nearly fifteen years of self-imposed absence from the spotlight, studio, and stage, D returned delivering “Black Messiah (RCA 2014)”, a brilliant funk and soul labyrinth, keenly distressed to fit the ever present and feverishly mounting racial tensions in America. ‘Messiah’, in lineage of protest music kindred to The Impressions’ “People Get Ready (1964)”, James Brown’s “The Payback (1974)”, and Sly Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971)”, although now depicting a future funk, is still desperately sound tracking the same societal slaughters as decades past. Now, months later after it’s release, ‘Messiah’ is accompanied by its live show, serving as the sounds’ perfect reflective mural.
D’ Angelo’s rejuvenated musical vigor is ushered in by an all new set of band mates (sans bassist Pino Palladino, the lone holdover from The Voodoo Tour), with the louder, edgier, Vanguard replacing the Soultronics. Graceful soul-cadet Kendra Foster of P-Funk fame (and co-writer on Black Messiah), Tony Williams’ reincarnate on drums, Chris “Daddy” Dave, veteran guitar virtuoso of Minneapolis funk (The Time) Jesse Johnson, and widely recognized, all-world musicians Pookie, and Sharkey, on keys and guitar.
With almost the entire band cloaked in black (and after a hand-picked medley of J Dilla tunes to set the atmosphere), they buzz-sawed into Black Messiah’s “Ain’t That Easy”. Then immediately and seamlessly ripped apart “Betray My Heart”, and as D switched from guitar to keyboard, microphone to microphone, and tank-top to poncho, he has easily placed himself among a very short list of superior bandleaders akin to James Brown and Prince. Both influences immediately recognizable, both stewed and simmered into D’s brand new funk bag. The Vanguard demonstrates superb precision, ranging from subtle hand gestures to the drummer in famous Prince and Al Green traditions, to duets with each band member modeled after the JB’s, The Second Coming is a master-class in performance art.
Although dominated by the newness of Black Messiah, sprinkled in were classics stemming from fan-favorite “Chicken Grease” and a bubbling, extended version of the 1996 staple, “Brown Sugar”.
Heart-tugging and healing, “The Charade” began as D demanded the audience to put their fists in the air with solidarity to mourn the lives of Black bodies lost to police and white-supremacist brutality. Sadly and noticeably missing, were the names of any women with shared fates. As D belted out vocals, genius resonated with his traditional juxtaposition of loving falsettos, and burly altos.
Encore after encore, and a sparkling version of “Til It’s Done”, the emotions and perspiration of the room settled into a swirling, twelve-minute religious rendition of “How Does It Feel”. Gasps of sensual exhaustion and church screams relieved women (and men too), as D swooned, channeling his inner Teddy P’s and Marvins.
With every ounce of passion, love, pride, rage, sorrow and sentiment hovering above the crowd, The Vanguard ended their amazing set, nearly three hours later to fists pumping, and hearts floating.
Gone now, are the rippling abs from D’ physique, the abs that caused the super-star’s legendary masculine anxieties, insecurities, and severe stage fright. Anxieties that many Black men wrestle with, in feeling that their lone importance relies on racial erotic delusion and tall-tale fantasies of their sexual prowess. Dating back historically, to when Black mens’ bodies were not even their own, being governed and raped not only by their male masters but also seized by their wives. A dichotomy recognized today by the still unmoved fear of Black mens’ bodies, with examples in Ferguson and Staten Island, and that fear also in close proximity to unmentionable lust for them. Gone are the demands of fans for D to undress, but rather for D to now cover them, with his slow-cooked, southern-fried musical roux. Those abs, now replaced with a wide resounding smile, and bursting spiritual health.
SoulOne is a DJ, record collector and producer, writer and culture critic from Houston, TX. His life’s work is preserving, documenting, and archiving performance arts.