New York Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Gary Clark, Jr. ended a 45 minute blues-drenched set, sprinkled with shank rhythms and rock musings with this simple affirmation: “You all know what’s next.” His brilliance notwithstanding, that statement caused more of an uproar from the Queens, NY audience than any of his bruising, soulful solos. Clark was eluding to the emergence of the headliner: D’Angelo. His “Second Coming Tour” is more than just a clever play on his new album, Black Messiah. It’s his own resurrection, from the tomb of addiction and self-doubt following the immeasurable success of 2000’s Voodoo album. The painstaking recording and release of Messiah this past December was – believe it or not – the easy part. Folks in America still needed to see if the Grammy-winner still had the goods on stage. In short: he damn sure did.
D’Angelo’s new band, The Vanguard, had a tough legacy to live up to, considering half of his last band, The Soultronics, included members of The Roots. This new crew of all-stars, including bassist extraordinaire Pino Palladino, drummer Chris Dave and guitarist/Prince-affiliate Jesse Johnson combined air-tight precision with loose jamming that fed the souls of the adoring fans. D and the Vanguard managed to stretch ten songs over 90 minutes, leaning heavily on new material (six songs were from Messiah). The Vanguard turned the new record’s opener “Ain’t That Easy” from a sticky mid-tempo romp into a rolling Bay-Area style jam. The breezy “Betray My Heart” ebbed and flowed from a finger snapping shuffle to horn-heavy, sweaty number that segued into Voodoo standout “Spanish Joint.” From then on, the next time the crowd sat down was when they reached the subway after the show ended.
D’s performance agility is as stealthy as ever. The 41-year-old jumped from guitar-shredder to dancer, to keyboardist, to crooner as if he was still the 26-year-old with the abdomen that drenched a thousand undergarments. His band-leading prowess is supernaturally prodigious, controlling the band and audience at the tip of his nimble fingers. He knew how long he could keep the crowd moving and when he needed to give them a break. The show was a master course in song dynamics and sequencing, not just from a tempo perspective, but of theme and tone. D’Angelo and the Vanguard moved seamlessly from the Latin-tinged ballad “Really Love,” to “The Charade”, the unofficial anthem of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, to a funky reworking of his 1995 love letter to weed, “Brown Sugar.”
Although an encore was imminent, fans left nothing to chance, banging on chairs and benches so hard you could feel the vibration beneath your feet. D’Angelo saved the best for last with “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” That voice… that singular voice was as malleable as it’s ever been, with hulking growls, keening falsetto and a sacred baritone that melted and inspired hearts all at once. D’Angelo is back, and he’s back for good this time.
– Matthew Allen