It’s been over fifteen years since D’Angelo blessed Denver with his presence. Last time, he was here in support of his critically acclaimed album Voodoo and playing at the Paramount Theatre. Some things have changed since then; D’Angelo has put himself into the small group of legendary bandleaders like the godfather himself, James Brown. And, as he stated last night, he got himself a new band: The Vanguard.
For the thrid stop on their current U.S. tour, D’Angelo and The Vanguard put on a stage show of monumental proportions. The Vanguard hosts some of the best musicians in the industry, including guitarist Jesse Johnson, bassist Pino Pallidino and P-Funk vocalist Kendra Foster.
The Vanguard walked on stage, motly dressed in black attire. Foster wore a custom-made swan dress by costume designer Ashaka Givens, and D’Angelo switched out a variety of cut and laced jackets, shawls, and hats throughout the evening.
The band started the show off with the opener to Black Messiah, “Ain’t That Easy”, setting in motion what would be an electrifying two and a half hour set. Black Messiah is a rock-infused soul album, similar to elements of Sly and The Family Stone and Parliament Funkadelic.
When not changing his clothing, D’Angelo would switch instruments, playing guitar and keys in addition to his omnipresent vocals. The three guitarists hammered away at solos and chunky percussive, funk infused chords, laying back-to-back, strengthening the power of funk through their bejeweled, glittered guitars.
The Vanguard mainly stuck to the Black Messiah material, but when they veered, they did it with clear intentions to keep the funk alive, playing a couple tunes from Voodoo:, “ Spanish Joint” and “Chicken Grease”, as well as the twenty year old classic “Brown Sugar.”
They ventured into interludes during transitions of songs that clearly showed The Vanguard’s dynamism. After blazing a clean version of “Sugar Daddy” The Vanguard ended their set with the JB’s classic, “Watergate” proving their ability to keep up with the best of them, as well, D’Angelo controlled the band with hand signals for counts and James Brown-esque dance moves. They ended “Watergate” with a forty five and a half one-chord count, which D’Angelo demanded, proving these musicians are diligent soldiers, capable of taking the Vanguard to the highest peak without missing a note.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard came out for two encores. During the first, the band played the solitary music of Heatwave’s “Star of the Story” before going into “Another Life” and following it up with “Back to the Future.”
On the new album there are two versions of “Back to the Future." The Vanguard played both, breaking down the formula of the song into strict elements of funk, with Pino Pallidino steadily keeping the groove moving.
There’s a chord progression in the second version of the song that sounds similar to “Left & Right”, so the Vanguard took course into the land of Voodoo, playing “Left & Right” and finishing the first encore with “Chicken Grease.”
The second and last encore began with the creamy, dream infused “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” and followed up the surreal progression with the song that placed D’ on the map, “Untitled (How Does it Feel).”
After a steady two and a half hours, D’Angelo was still belting his vocals like it was the start of the show. The band, one-by-one, waved to the audience and stepped off the stage, leaving D’Angelo by his lonesome at the keys, playing and singing, “How does it feel?”
D’Angelo and The Vanguard put on a show that seems to be disappearing from the world of music: one with a bandleader, showmanship, legitimate musicians who have mastered their craft, and of course, the funk. The next tour and album D’Angelo comes out with will surely be on some next level, and I for one, cannot wait.