A night with D’Angelo and The Vanguard

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On an unseasonably warm late spring evening in Atlanta, hundreds of fans stood in line awaiting the doors of the famed Tabernacle to be opened. The most eager of fans stood in line hours before the 7 p.m. call time just to get a good spot inside. But for them it would be worth it, because behind those doors waited a man armed with his mysterious bravado and a band that reflected his persona. “I was far too young when Voodoo came out,” one young lady said. “But now that he’s returned I couldn’t let this opportunity pass to see him do his thing.”

It is perhaps appropriate D’Angelo returned to Atlanta to play in a venue called “Tabernacle.” The son of a Pentecostal preacher, his brand of music, soul music rooted in the Gospel while implementing unique, forward-thinking melodies and textures, moves people in a way few artists ever have. “He’s a descendent of the Princes, the Sly Stones, the Marvin Gayes,” one man said. “But has always maintained his own identity.”

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At a quarter past 7 p.m., security swung the gates open and the line started to move. People from all walks of life were in attendance, from East Atlanta yuccies to urban musical celebrities like Big K.R.I.T. and Bobby V paying their respects. The atmosphere was warm, people greeted each other with open arms and polite nods. As the hour approached 8 p.m., members of the media went to their appropriate spots.

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D’Angelo and The Vanguard have been on their Second Coming Tour since its European start in February, and in their American leg they have welcomed audiences with opening act Meg Mac (Megan McInerney). Meg is an up-and-coming musician from Melbourne, Australia, who’s mix of indie rock and pop creates a soulful sound akin to Lana del Rey. After finishing her set from her self-titled EP, she quietly thanked the crowd.

Nine p.m. rolled in and the audience grew more anxious. As the DJ spun J-Dilla-inspired tracks, every light test got a roar, every sound test was greeted with cheers. Then, the house lights lowered down and the band walked out. The Vanguard is a gumbo of musical talent: legendary bassist Pino Palladino and guitarist Jesse Johnson, drummer extraordinaire Chris Dave, respected vocalist and songwriter Kendra Foster are just to name a few. All the members are seasoned veterans so it is no wonder why the man leading them would call on them.

Since Voodoo‘s release in 2000, the music industry has drastically changed. Much of music that dominates radio and club playlist are EDM-driven. Consumers still invested in CDs at the turn of the century. Now companies are competing to dominate the online streaming world. An artist’s personal life is as much publicized as their music, if not more. So a reclusive, throwback artist like D’Angelo getting a resounding round applause when he walked onto the stage is somewhat of a surprise.

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D’Angelo and The Vanguard opened the show with an extended version of the Black Messiah opener, “Ain’t That Easy.” This motif happened throughout the night, extended versions of songs from the new album as well as gems from the past. After ripping through a few songs, the band pauses and dons black hoodies and performed “The Charade” in honor of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and all of the slain black children at the hands of police brutality.

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Fans maintained their euphoric energy throughout the night. They danced the night away to songs like “Chicken Grease” and “Sugah Daddy.” Lovers held on to one another through the most intimate moments of “Really Love” and “Brown Sugar.” After a couple of breaks and false finishes, the band reentered the stage to close the show with D’Angelo’s signature song “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” That song, along with the video, has long been the understood reason why D’Angelo left the industry. Many close to him believed the pressure of living up to the expectations of a sex symbol diminished his desire to be reveled as a musician first. But tonight, D’Angelo seemed to have exercised those demons a long time ago. He and The Vanguard performed with such gravitas, audience members waived their lighters and lit cellphones in unison. As the band played out, one by one they exited with each person receiving a greater applause than the last.

“How does it feel?” D’Angelo kept singing. From their reactions, fans seemed to feel pretty good about their hero returning for one night. And as smoothly as they entered the stage, they were disappeared into the minds that witnessed the “Black Messiah” return to form.

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