D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Then & Now – Night & Day

The difference between D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s concert at London’s Roundhouse on Monday night and the last concert of theirs I heard is like Night and Day.

The last was nine months ago when they performed at Soulfest 2014– “Australia’s first annual neo-soul, hip hop and jazz festival”. At that time and for the previous decade, live performances by D’Angelo – or any news of D’Angelo – were rare, almost non-existent. We had no idea then that Black Messiah and the ‘Second Coming’ of D’Angelo were imminent.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

I raved about the seemingly phenomenal goodness of those Australian shows. But with hindsight and the experience of D’Angelo and The Vanguard in London this week I see things a little differently.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at London Roundhouse

Sure the 2014 shows were magnificent – but really, that was for the rare opportunity to experience the incredible musicianship of each and every one of those long-beloved funk and soul artists on stage performing their craft live. The reclusive D’Angelo first and foremost of course – joined (amongst the rest of The Vanguard) by Jesse Johnson, Pino Palladino and Kendra Foster.

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But what I saw clearly in London this week when D’Angelo & The Vanguard graced the stage and started playing (albeit an excruciating 90+ minutes late due to flight delays), is the epic transformation that’s taken place for them since Soulfest. With the release of Black Messiah, considered a wondrous musical gift by, well, everyone who knows anything 🙂 , and 30+ live shows later, D’Angelo & The Vanguard are now a different, much much stronger beast than ever before.

For starters the 11-piece group now includes horns, glorious horns care of Keyon Harrold and Kenneth Whalum III. And as of this month veteran soul diva and long-time friend of D’Angelo, Joi Gilliam brings her talents to The Vanguard posse, taking the place of Kendra Foster on back-up vocals.

Joi Gilliam - D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Joi Gilliam

But above and beyond that, the greatest transformations are the profound connectivity and tightness of the group evident in every sound and movement made; and the visible changes in their leader D’Angelo.

Gone is the timid, slightly nervous, restrained D’Angelo I saw on Soulfest stages reacquainting himself with performing to the world – and avoiding ‘Brown Sugar’. Enter D’Angelo on the Roundhouse stage – completely and utterly comfortable, confident and happy in his human and musical skin, doing what he loves to do and what (it seems) he was naturally born to do before the vultures of the music industry, the press (and the public too) sent him to face his demons and retreat for way too long: to bring absolute joy to the people of the world through music.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Both the Roundhouse and Soulfest shows ended with ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – and the opportunity for all (D’Angelo too from behind his piano) to hear and appreciate the individual sound of each player and vocalist in turn, and acknowledge their contribution to the show before leaving the stage. Of course I wanted them to stay and play on and on, and on some more.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

On my way out of the Roundhouse my smile got even wider after hearing a guy tell his friend his only disappointment about the show was that D’Angelo played some of his old songs [only two I think – ’Brown Sugar’ and ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’] instead of more of Black Messiah (we did get ‘Sugah Daddy’ ‘Ain’t That Easy’, ‘Really Love’, ‘Betray My Heart’ and ‘The Charade’). Turn back the clock to Soulfest when it drove me crazy to hear people complaining D’Angelo didn’t play ‘Brown Sugar’.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Betray My Heart – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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My only disappointment was that another spiritual, sublime, superb D’Angelo & The Vanguard experience had come and gone again so quickly – and wasn’t coming to London again a week later as planned because of cancellation of the Eventim Apollo show.  The fact is that no number of live D’Angelo & The Vanguard shows will ever be enough – and I’m grateful for the glorious one I got this week.

Check out a few short snippets from the Roundhouse show here…

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When I got the post-Parliament Funkadelic-blues in April, I consoled myself by buying a ticket to D’Angelo’s Roundhouse show. The tables now turn and my consolation for next week’s cancelled D’Angelo show comes via the live P-Funk experience that awaits me in London on August 7.

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