D'Angelo killed it, but would you expect anything else?
D’Angelo and his current band the Vanguard played an almost three hour set that felt like a 1920s supperclub show, a harmonic worship service, a rockin’ metal production, & a sexy R&B swoon all in one.
How often do you see all of the stage security smiling and bopping their heads along to the beat with you? And how often are you at a show where everyone is dressed to the nines in heels, collared shirts, and dresses? D’Angelo and the Vanguard brought an infection of movement, music, and mirth to Denver this week.
The musicianship of the Vanguard is incredible. Let’s talk Chris “Daddy” Dave first. His spiral trash cymbals fascinated me from the moment I walked in. When Dave tapped the bottom of the stacks, the metal swirled upward toward the cymbal on top and reverberated in a smooth, jazzy timbre. Daddy Dave was locked in tight to D’Angelo’s direction the entire night, slamming out beats whenever D’Angelo held up his hands. At one point D’Angelo yelled into the mic “45 & Goodnight!” and Dave proceeded to hit us with 45 consecutive strikes before D’Angelo’s first of three exits (they played double encores). Awesome.
Guitarists Jessie Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey were equally badass band members. They bumped funk, they spewed rock, they fingered jazz, and they straight shredded at points. Johnson (who brought more rock vibes) literally sparkled under the stage lights- the gleaming diamond watch on his strumming hand was only out-shined by his glittering guitar and perfect playing. Sharkey’s style was injected with jazz-fusion; he and D’Angelo jammed back to back in a synchronicity so strong that it was impossible to look away. Flawless.
And who was holding down bass? The legendary Pino Palladino, who grooved us into oblivion with three different Fender basses. When you have a former member of The Who in yo clique, you’re bound to create an inconceivable performance. And they did.
Also of note was backup singer and dancer Kendra Foster. Kendra had power behind every move she made. Whether it was commanding the microphone with smooth vocals, her choreographed movements with the other two (male) backup singer/dancers, or her solo ballet performance when D’Angelo made one of several outfit changes, Kendra’s energy was unparalleled. She never stopped moving. And I didn’t want her to.
The Vanguard also boasted the talents of keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” Sample, a two-manned horn section, and the male backup singers I mentioned. All were incredible performers.
And then there was D’Angelo, who was so great it’s almost hard to write about. For someone who had a fourteen year hiatus, you’d never know he left the stage. Whether he is crooning you on keys, sliding you around his extensive vocal range, or making you jump up and down with his guitar bridges, D’Angelo brings you into his musical creations and makes you an active part of his show. You want to be, because everything he does is contagious. He claps; you clap. He jumps; you jump. He sweats; you sweat. Seriously- you and everyone around you are drenched by the end of the show. The air is charged by the D. The air is charged by D’Angelo.
D’Angelo felt like a powerful amalgamation of musicians before him. There’s a little Jimi in there, there’s an element of Brian Wilson’s genius composition skills, there’s a piece of Prince’s stage presence, and of course there is a noticeable influence of James Brown. D’Angelo is one of the greats. His soul feels like it’s in every note.
So what did they play? You can see the setlist here. But it didn’t matter. You didn’t care because this performance was so much more than just hearing your favorite D’Angelo song.
Bonnaroo, you’re next in line for the amazingness that is this collective of souls. Don’t miss it.
See D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s entire tour schedule to get yourself to a show here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.