D’Angelo didn’t speak much to the capacity crowd at Los Angeles’ Club Nokia on Monday night. But, in one of the rare moments of address early in the set, he asked the crowd how they liked his new band. He then asked the audience to shout the band’s name at the count of three, with the audience responding correctly with an exclamation of “The Vanguard.”
The decision of D’Angelo to not release Black Messiah or tour the critical smash as just a solo entity with a nameless back group speaks volumes to the intent behind the record’s sound and, likewise, the album’s live presentation. D’Angelo takes the role of bandleader, often playing the role of instigator while his backing singers bring the song home. The result was a group effort that didn’t take the tour’s title, The Second Coming, lightly. If moments of religious revival or conversion are popular in music, displays like D’Angelo and the Vanguard are the ones that would inspire them, with songs extending well beyond their recorded forms to a jam atmosphere similar to that created by D’Angelo’s friends, The Roots.
Maybe most notable was the revelation of a backup singer in Kendra Foster. Many times, D’Angelo and her would come up with loose choreography, while on one occasion, D’Angelo ceded the stage for her to provide a ballet-inspired dance routine interlude as he put on a new outfit. Isaiah Sharkey’s on-point acoustic guitar solo for “Spanish Joint” and lead guitarist Jesse Johnson’s muscular oomph across the board also were highlights, with a song like “The Charade” taking the shape as a rock and roll number that Prince might perform. Genre didn’t have much of a place on stage with the Vanguard, with the band celebrating a palpable love for making music together over two and a half hours of performance.
The joy on stage was something of a surprise considering D’Angelo’s long retreat from the public eye, part of which was brought on by personal battles with drugs and alcohol. But, now with a beloved album to highlight and a few classics to pepper in, the smile was hard to remove from the singer’s face, with him seeming ready to return to his throne as one of R&B’s most revered figures. More so, the pleasure seemed to only grow with the audience’s response.
This was most obvious in the night’s big finish, D’Angelo’s best known song “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”. At the song’s opening notes, a train of women moved from the back of the room to get closer. A couple near me started savagely making out. The overall impression was to just stay out of people’s way, which D’Angelo milked to a fever pitch, repeatedly nearing the microphone as if to sing and back away with a smile. In his 14 years between albums, the singer knows the power in making people wait. This is especially effective when you can deliver on that anticipation. At that, ideas thrown around by the singer like Black Messiah and The Second Coming tour never seem like hyperbole, but just an accurate self-perception of a musical deity.
Ain’t That Easy
Betray My Heart
Back To The Future
Left & Right
Till It’s Done (Tutu)
Untitled (How Does It Feel)