Most artists, if they tagged their tour as “The Second Coming,” would be laughed right off the stage, but then, most artists are not D’Angelo.
The only actively working musician who could legitimately lay claim to a title of such enormous expectation, other than maybe Prince, the man born Michael Archer wasted little time proving exactly why even “The Second Coming” seemed to somehow shortchange what was happening on stage at the Bomb Factory.
Surrounded by a 10-piece band D’Angelo has dubbed the Vanguard, Tuesday’s performance contained multitudes: it was topical; it was sexy; it was compelling; it was funky; it was ferociously entertaining.
Not unlike Stevie Wonder’s powerhouse showcase at the American Airlines Center earlier this year, D’Angelo’s nearly two-hour set was a vivid, dizzying reminder of live music’s power — yes, there was a laptop on stage, but still: most of this was happening in real time, courtesy a collective of musicians with serious chops who were following their leader’s every move.
Pulling from last year’s sensual and stinging Black Messiah, as well as the other two records in his catalog (1995’s Brown Sugar and 2000’s Voodoo), the 41-year-old D’Angelo was practically leaping off the stage with exuberance.
An intensely physical singer who worked the full length of the Bomb Factory stage, changing outfits frequently, his feathery falsetto made for a mesmerizing contrast with his brawling, burly body: the lover and the fighter in close proximity.
That juxtaposition was also realized in musical form, in the space of just two songs.
D’Angelo shifted from the somber, torn-from-the-headlines Charade, which D’Angelo dedicated Tuesday to Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (“All we wanted was a chance to talk/Instead we only got outlined in chalk”) to the blissful abandon of Brown Sugar, the title track from his 1995 debut (“Brown sugar babe, I gets high off your love/I don’t know how to behave”).
The twin poles of D’Angelo’s artistic personality — the political and the personal — allowed him to walk a tightrope between the salacious and the serious all night long, a balancing act he made seem as effortless as guiding the musicians behind him.
Indeed, watching D’Angelo conduct the Vanguard conjures visions of James Brown or Prince, men with fearless performers at their back, who can go anywhere with just a few flicks of the finger. It’s riveting, revelatory stuff.
One song spilled into the next (Back to the Future slipped into Left and Right rolled into Chicken Grease) as the evening stretched on toward midnight.
“Do you want to go home?” a grinning, sweating D’Angelo yelled near the end, to which the sizable crowd roared back a hearty “Hell no!”
The dancing, smiling, singing, clapping audience resumed riding D’Angelo’s full-tilt funk rollercoaster, hurtling toward a destination resembling something like heaven.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713