D'Angelo and the Vangaurd
The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice.
D’Angelo, the Black Messiah, dedicated a song to those three lives deemed undeserving of justice by the so-called justice system. We can throw in a few other names for good measure as well. James Harrison. Walter Scott. The list goes on and on and on and on. We've sung the same song for years, hundreds of times, and it only deviates in who's singing it, like an old jazz standard. It’s the same song at heart.
No justice. No peace.
Emmett Till and his family never got justice after Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam threw him in the back of their truck, shot him dead and disposed of his body, using — in an act of twisted symbolism — a cotton gin fan to weigh his body down before throwing it in a river. Nor was there justice for Rodney King after a video showed him being beaten by a gang of police like a rag doll.
On Tuesday, D’Angelo dedicated his own version of "Strange Fruit," “The Charade,” to Mr. Garner, Mr. Rice, Mr. Brown and the countless others like them. The chorus: “All we wanted was a chance to talk/'stead we've only got outlined in chalk/Feet have bled, a million miles we've walked/Revealing, at the end of the day, the charade.”
It’s not as somber as it sounds. “The Charade” aims its finger at the sky to point out that the farce, the jig, is up. It's a rollicking number, as was pretty much all of D’Angelo’s nearly two-hour set last night at The Bomb Factory.
D’Angelo is a consummate performer. Watching him must be damn close to the experience of seeing James Brown himself skitter across the stage in one of those hot and lively Chitlin’ Circuit venues. Over the course of his set, funk was proven to be alive and well. D’Angelo and his 10-piece band, the Vanguard, generated warm, analog textures that are uncommon in contemporary music. The audience's enthusiastic response showed it's been missed.
People danced from the opening riff to “Ain’t That Easy,” which ushered in his set. Hardly anybody dances at concerts these days. And there was no moshing — not even the weird rap mosh, where people just jump around and bump into one another. The audience wasn’t filled with the pensive-looking, crossed-armed toe tappers you see at indie rock shows. People danced and danced and danced, which is a credit to the Vanguard. It was impossible not to, as D'Angelo delivered long, grooving renditions of songs from his latest effort, Black Messiah, with a few of his classics spliced in here and there.
The Vanguard has an uncanny ability to bring songs to life. They took a romantic number, “Really Love” — one of the standouts from Black Messiah — and successfully warped the delicate and beautiful song into a jam. After the last note was played, I think I saw “Really Love” hop off the stage, order a drink at the bar, use the bathroom and nudge its way to the front just in time to see the Vangaurd perform “Brown Sugar” and “Sugah Daddy.” Each song seamlessly flowed into the next, and these capped off the initial set.
The first encore, which featured “Another Life,” “Back to the Future,” “Left & Right” and “Chicken Grease,” were the highest points in the funk extravaganza. At one point during this raw jam, D’Angelo asked the band to “hit me” 45-and-a-half times. Of course, the second encore ended with “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” closing out the show. It's an old, familiar song and the audience sang along.
D'Angelo was absolutely the second coming last night: He was the second coming of funk — raw funk that makes a room as big and opulent as The Bomb Factory feel tiny and humble. Black Messiah was D'Angelo's first release in 14 years, and it's good to have our savior back.