D’Angelo Electrifies at Triumphant Second Coming Tour Opener
When D’Angelo last visited Oakland in the spring of 2000, he was steaming from the deafening acclaim given to Voodoo, and the impact of his glistening naked torso in the “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” Backed by a troupe that featured drummer Questlove and producer James Poyser, he thrilled a sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theater, but his burgeoning sex symbol status nearly overshadowed a masterful performance.
A little over 15 years later, D’Angelo returned to downtown Oakland’s Fox Theater for the first night of his U.S. tour in support of his lionized comeback album, Black Messiah. (Much of the audience arrived late after watching their hometown favorite Golden State Warriors lose a heartbreaker in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, and so they missed an opening set by promising Australian singer-songwriter Meg Mac.) This time, he didn’t strip off his shirt, instead opting for a series of modestly effective costume changes to complement his black T-shirt, pants and boots, like an assembly of hats, particularly a stylish white fedora, as well as a mud-and-lime colored trench coat and a white-ringed black shawl. His formerly glorious beefcake chest may have dissipated under time and age, but it wasn’t forgotten, if the frequently delighted squeals from women in the audience were any indication.
Backed by the 10-piece Vanguard, D’Angelo and his singers – P-Funk veteran Kendra Foster, Jermaine Holmes and Charles “Red” Middleton – took the stage with their arms raised in the air, paying homage to the icon “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” before launching into a feverish 12-minute rendition of “Ain’t That Easy.” The saxophonist and trumpeter piped wailed like the JBs’ Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. (Frustratingly, but perhaps due to a first-show mistake, D’Angelo didn’t individually introduce the members of his band.) D’Angelo frequently alternated between strumming a guitar, vamping on a keyboard and strutting in the center of the stage while seemingly nodding directions to his musicians. During the intro to “Really Love,” Foster performed a dazzling interpretative ballet. Meanwhile, veteran bassist Pino Palladino added a bottom that pulsed underneath like a heartbeat.
From James Brown to Prince, D’Angelo’s inspirations are still easy to spot. The heavy Prince influence isn’t as strong as in years past, but he still tends to scream at key moments just like the Purple One. During an extended rendition of “Back to the Future Pt. 1,” he and the band interspersed a melodies from Sly & the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” as they chanted “Gangsta funk! Gangsta boogie!”