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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Soulfest 2015 – The Second Coming

Soulfest arrived last year, promoted as ‘Australia’s First Annual Neo Soul, Jazz & Hip Hop Festival’. Some teething problems in its inaugural year left people wondering whether there would be a second Soulfest in 2015.

Soulfest Australia poster

Most who experienced Soulfest 2014 were hoping the festival would come again. Because despite those initial teething problems, Soulfest had delivered to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (+ Auckland) one day and night of back-to-back live performances by a super indulgent line-up of some of the worlds greatest living contemporary soul, R&B and hip hop artists.

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Soulfest 2014 Got D’Angelo

First and foremost, one of those Soulfest 2014 artists was the (up until recently) reclusive D’Angelo.

D'Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

His live Soulfest performances in Australia and New Zealand with The Vanguard were D’Angelo’s first in some time. Those shows also turned out to be D’Angelo’s last ones before the sudden December release of his new album – the divinely soulful, analogue masterpiece Black Messiah

By now you all probably have Black Messiah in your music collections on vinyl and/or cd yes? Or you’ve at least heard the album? Anybody living under a rock who hasn’t can check out these two [dirty mp3] sample tracks from Black Messiah then get yourself the hard-copy on vinyl or cd.

D'Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

Black Messiah (2014)

‘Sugah Daddy’ – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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‘Really Love’ – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s October Soulfest shows were also their last live performances before the next one just a couple of weeks ago on Saturday Night Live. Blessed were Australia and New Zealand punters to get the recent experience of D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest which D’Angelo fans all over the world now want – some lucky folks in Europe getting it right about now on his ‘Second Coming Tour’ which kicked off in New York last week.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Check out these videos of D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s Soulfest 2014 shows in Melbourne and Brisbane…

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Much More Than D’Angelo

The live experience of D’Angelo & The Vanguard in 2014 was for me the absolute bomb of Soulfest 2014.

D'Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

But every other leading artist who performed at the festival, and every supporting band member on the main stage with them, were musical gifts of the greatest kind too:  Angie Stone, Leela James, Maxwell, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Anthony Hamilton, Common, Musiq Soulchild and Aloe Blacc. So too were the Australian (or New Zealand) based artists who performed on the second Soulfest stage in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.

Melbourne                                                                    Brisbane

Angie Stone live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Angie Stone

Angie Stone live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Angie Stone

Leela James live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Leela James

Leela James live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Leela James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maxwell live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

Maxwell live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

 

 

 

 

Mos Def live at Mellbourne Soulfest 2014

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

Anthony Hamilton at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Anthony Hamilton

Anthony Hamilton live @ Soulfest Brisbane 2014

Anthony Hamilton

Common live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Common

Common live at Soulfest 2014 Brisbane

Common

Musiq Soulchild live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Musiq Soulchild

Musiq Soulchild

 

Aloe Blacc live @ Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Aloe Blacc

Aloe Blacc live @ Soulfest Brisbane 2014

Aloe Blacc

Aotearoa-New Zealand / Papua New Guinea / Australia represented at Brisbane Soulfest…

You can check out a heap of videos and more photos of those artists performing live at Melbourne and Brisbane Soulfest 2014 here: Brisbane Soulfest  – Melbourne Soulfest – plus these extra ones below pulled from the Beaver library…



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Soulfest 2015

It would be tough to beat the line-up delivered at Soulfest 2014. But praised be the Music Gods, the news for soul, R&B and hip hop music lovers around the world is that Soulfest say it’s going to try. The festival recently announced that a “bigger and better” Soulfest 2015 is coming – with news of the first round of artists to be delivered soon.

I’m still praying for a super-extra-special miracle that D’Angelo might extend his ‘Second Coming Tour’ to include a return trip to Australia to perform the Black Messiah songs Australia and New Zealand didn’t get at Soulfest last time around; and for the artist I consider to be the living Queen of Soul Music, Erykah Badu to come too.  One can only dream 🙂 .

Register on the Soulfest website or keep an eye on its Facebook page to hear up-to-date news about Soulfest 2015.

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D’Angelo – A Messiah of Sorts

Have you spent the last 14 years since D’Angelo delivered Voodoo – waiting, watching, desperately hoping for the artist then-dubbed the “R&B Jesus” to bring us new music, to deliver Black Messiah? Not me, or at least I didn’t think I was. Voodoo kept me in good company that whole time and still now gives me as much listening delight as it did 14 years ago. It will for the rest of my days.

Certainly for all those years I was waiting and hoping for the live D’Angelo experience. Fortunately I was finally blessed to get a double-fix in Australia a few months ago when D’Angelo and The Vanguard performed at Soulfest in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo and The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014 (w/ Angie Stone & Anthony Hamilton on back-up vocals)

Finally experiencing the incredible vocal and instrumental chops of D’Angelo and the other musicians on stage with him at Soulfest (including legendary bass player Pino Palladino and ex-Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson), was sublimely satisfying.

Pino Palladino with D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Jesse Johnson with D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

The Coming of Black Messiah

Now that Black Messiah is here though; now that I’ve listened to it in hard-copy on the good sound system it’s meant to be heard on, over and over and over again; now that I reflect on the character and quality of r&b, soul and funk music created by artists throughout the last decade, reflect on all music made during that time period of rapid digitalisation, I realise something about D’Angelo and Black Messiah.

I might not have been in-waiting for his new music, but since the album’s turned out to be of the “crazy-amazing, gold standard” type that Prince sings about on Art Official Age; the type we don’t seem to hear as much of these days, D’Angelo’s most recent creation is a surprisingly refreshing and welcome relief from most new music offerings around.

D’Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

The quality, textures, flavors and sounds of Black Messiah have the glorious essence of old – a contemporary manifestation of all the crazy-amazing, gold standard soul, r&b, jazz and funk music artists we all know and love who came before, at the same time and soon after D’Angelo.

The composition of all Black Messiah’s diverse, layered, beautifully-blended sounds by multi-instrumentalist & vocalist D’Angelo, in collaboration with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (drums), Q-Tip (lyrics), Pino Palladino (bass+sitar), Roy Hargrove (brass & horns), James Gadson (drums) and Kendra Foster (lyrics/vocals) are as brilliant as you’d expect from la crème de la crème of contemporary funk, soul, hip hop and jazz artists. Every note on the album is executed flawlessly by those and other talented musicians D’Angelo worked with in the studio (again including Jesse Johnson).

The honey-sweet lead and backing vocals sung by D’Angelo (also P-Funk’s Kendra Foster & others) sound as natural and improvised as could be, ooze tender emotion and would be impossible for any singer to replicate if they tried.

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo

Kendra Foster with D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Kendra Foster

Fundamentally too, this album is a rarity because it was organically recorded and mixed in the sweet, warm analog world, uncontaminated by digital manipulations.

All of those factors in Black Messiah’s mix equal a bouncing, grooving, funking, jazzy, swinging, occasionally rocked-out, absolutely soul-drenched album of sound delights from start to finish.

Long-Awaited Music Messiah

So even though D’Angelo has clearly stated he’s not professing himself to be the black messiah, the crazy-amazing music he’s created and just shared with the world in light of all music that’s come before it in recent years, means D’Angelo is now as he was 14 years ago, and will be for the rest of time, regarded by me and millions of others in the world as a saviour of sorts – a Music Messiah.

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

The ultimate message I take from Black Messiah is one of hope for the future; confirmation that yes, this is the high-quality “crazy-amazing gold standard” that music can still meet; these are the sounds of music that music can still have.

Black Messiah at its Best

Giving mp3-only samples of Black Messiah feels dirtier than ever before, but here you have a couple of tracks. Get the album on sweet vinyl from 4 February to hear this music as it was meant to be heard. Get it on cd now if you don’t already have it. Familiarise yourself with the names of all the musical magicians involved in its creation. Enjoy the imagery, admire the photography.

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Most importantly “for best results”, listen on a good sound system “at maximum volume” as D’Angelo recommends in the linear notes, so you properly discover and appreciate the myriad of sounds on the album. Love all of Black Messiah forever after, I’m sure that you will. Amen.

D’Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

Black Messiah (2014)

‘Back to the Future (Part 1)’ –  Black Messiah – D’Angelo and The Vanguard

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‘Prayer’  – Black Messiah – D’Angelo and The Vanguard

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D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

And Now?

With Black Messiah now here, people around the world are probably chomping-at-the-bit for something more; waiting, watching, desperately hoping for D’Angelo to start doing interviews. Not me. I say leave the man be. I’m just grateful for the artist D’Angelo’s delivery of yet another crazy-amazing body of music to delight in forever after. We still have Voodoo and Brown Sugar to keep us company too.

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I’m going back to waiting, watching, hoping for another live experience of D’Angelo and The Vanguard – the next time around playing Black Messiah tracks. Lucky peeps who can get to Europe in February and March for the ‘Second Coming Tour’ can have theirs soon. For a glimpse of the experience, check out more here on D’Angelo and The Vanguard performing recently at Soulfest Australia.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo and The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

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