Electrifying! D’Angelo and the Vanguard at Luglio Suona Bene

D'Angelo and the Vanguard on stage in Rome
When a singer releases a comeback album entitled Black Messiah after a fourteen year hiatus, and then takes that album on the road as The Second Coming Tour, he is clearly being provocative. But when that artist is as charismatic and talented as D’Angelo, whose artistic return from the wilderness has been welcomed as nothing short of a miracle by fans and critics alike, it is very easy to forgive the hyperbole. Black Messiah is an enigmatic and utterly addictive gem of an album. The man himself came blazing into town yesterday evening backed by his 10-piece band The Vanguard in an electrifying performance at the Auditorium Parco della Musica that amply demonstrated why he’s still the undisputed king of neo-soul.

What was wonderfully apparent throughout the evening was that this consummate showman appeared to be so happy to be back. On one of the hottest and steamiest nights of the year, D’Angelo must have broken some kind of record for getting the audience up and dancing – a minute into the opening song Ain’t That Easy, the Auditorium security guards were powerless to block the rush of fans to below the stage, where they stayed throughout the show, exchanging kisses, handshakes and fist bumps with D’Angelo.

The setlist was presented as one continuous flow of music, with musical interludes between songs from not only Black Messiah, but also from his first two albums, Brown Sugar and Voodoo as well. There was very little chat – only The Charade was introduced formally, by a hooded D’Angelo in the most overtly political moment of the show, with a dedication to victims of police brutality everywhere and an invitation to raise our fists in the air. D’Angelo is an artist who wears his musical inspirations on his sleeve, so there were instantly recognisable nods to James Brown in the counting out of the vamps in main set closer Sugar Daddy, and also to Prince in his dexterous use of falsetto, not to mention the densely layered guitars played by erstwhile Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson.

D’Angelo is no stranger to building audience anticipation, and there was a protracted wait before he returned to the stage for the closing encore, where he playfully teased us with feints and false starts at the beginning of Untitled (How Does It Feel). This turned out to be a glorious fifteen minute farewell, that saw each member of the band – including the legendary Pino Palladino on bass guitar - enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight, then leave the stage, one by one, until D’Angelo was finally left alone at the keyboards.

An amazing show by an extraordinary performer - miss him at your peril!

Full set list:
• Ain’t That Easy
• Vanguard Theme
• Betray My Heart
• Spanish Joint
• Claire Fisher – Interlude
• Really Love
• The Charade
• Brown Sugar
• Sugah Daddy
• Drum solo by Chris Dave
• Untitled (How Does it Feel)