D'Angelo @ O2 Apollo, Manchester, 18 February
The more you think about it, the more D’Angelo’s decision to effectively opt out of the commercial success his 14-years-in-the-making third LP, Black Messiah, would've surely brought, by rush releasing it in the no-man’s land of December in response to the mounting Ferguson unrest, was a statement of some integrity. Unwavering in the self-belief that his simmering, futurist soul remains a voice for black America, such conviction is revitalising at a time when the West’s mainstream has suffered a collective loss of cojones.
A tonic on record, however, becomes a force in the flesh; belying his 5’7 frame, D’Angelo towers over us tonight. Arms outstretched angelically, he murmurs a snatch of the Lord's Prayer before breaking off into recent jam Prayer as people surge towards the stage in delirium. Relentless for over two hours, jumping between guitar and keys when not losing his limbs to the ebb and flow of his band The Vanguards’ slick rhythmic nuances, he acts as a lightning rod for the likes of Ain’t That Easy’s spitting funk and Sugah Daddy’s dizzying piano hop-scotch.
Marvin Gaye – a regular visitor to the teenage D’Angelo’s dreams – remains a spectre in his vocals, which caress pre-Millennial favourites Brown Sugar and Lady with the same molten seductiveness they ever did; indeed tonight’s show eschews the progression of his studio work in lieu of a demonstration in old-school soul showmanship, even the aisles up in the circle becoming corridors of motion by its end.
Finishing with Untitled (How Does It Feel?), a song whose accompanying video in 2000 infamously led to insecurities over his body and a subsequent fall into drugs and depression, D’Angelo repeats the parenthetical question to us over and over again. Each repetition becomes cathartic, a completion in the rehabilitation of a man who tonight stands before us reborn.