|D'Angelo and the Vanguard|
Photo by Ghana Imani Hylton
I haven’t read any of the reviews of this show. I didn’t want anyone to throw stones at my bubble. I also didn’t want to be swayed by what they had to say. Haters, nay sayers and band wagoners get on my nerves. I know many of the reviews have been glowing, but I still didn’t want to see them. I wanted my recount to be from the place pure bliss that I felt at the show last week. I know that D’Angelo is coming back to New York on March 11th, but I’m still swimming in the magic that was the Apollo.
I have played at the Apollo in the café many times. I have been in those dressing rooms, the same ones that so many of the artists I love put on their makeup and their best outfits to grace the stage. I know that spirits that move and live up in there. You can feel them in those walls. Their names are pressed in the sidewalk. There is a Black history imprinted on that space that is not found in quite any other. I know enough about the inner workings of the Apollo to know that it’s not a prefect place, but in spite of all that has happened in Harlem, meaning gentrification and corruption, it is still standing.
There have been questions about the love I have for D’Angelo, where it comes from and have there been others. Well of course there have been others. Don’t we all have our favorite artists? You know, the real special ones that we will lay down almost any amount of money to see because by doing so we are changed. Maybe you are surprised because I’m a grown woman and not 15 so it that makes you take pause about my excitement and possibly makes you think about the last time you were really super excited about anything. At the bottom line I’m excited because I LOVE MUSIC and I still believe in its healing power. D’Angelo, like many other artists, is special, and he’s also part of my life. Do I know him? Not at all. I’ve never even met the man although there is about one degree of separation between us. But even without ever looking him in the eye, he is still a part of who I am. Isn’t that what music does to us? Isn’t that how it penetrates our soul? There are many stories to tell of D’Angelo’s super highs and very lows (both career and narcotic). This is a real struggle that he has been through and if we know anything about addiction, we know he is probably still going through. It’s a path that you or I may never fully know, but if we really step back and think about it we can surely understand. We are all human after all. I mean what’s your later 15 years been like?
Getting to the Apollo...
I can’t remember what day it was announced that D’Angelo would be at the Apollo, but I do know that at that very moment I was looking around my house trying to decide what I was going to have to sell to be there. It’s just like that sometimes. I knew the coffers were low, but I also knew I had to be there.
As most of you know I had posted my “12 days of Black Messiah” starting almost from the time the joint dropped in the early morning hours of December 15th. It seemed to take over my whole life, and from the first time I played it I knew I had to hear this music live. Every piece of it shook me to the bone. I sat listening and by the end there were tears in my eyes. Damn. He did it!
As good fortune would have it I didn’t have to sell my soul or my ass to get to the show. My good friend Mechelle actually called me up and said, “We’re going!” Yes! She was there to feed my soul. According to her I have a better Internet connection than she does so I was given the task of pulling the trigger on the tickets in the morning of the pre-sale on January 19th. I knew I had to be focused because this was the Apollo after all. The venue is intimate, which means there are not a lot of seats to go around. I was determined to get those tix on the 19th. I wasn’t taking any shorts.
On the morning, I got up early and sat on my cushion to meditate. I was not doing my usual vipassana meditation. Nope! That day I was focused on getting those tickets. After sitting I prayed with my malas. Not for world peace. Nope! I prayed that I would get through and get tickets to D’Angelo. I knew how much we could spend so in that range I didn’t care where the seats came up because no matter where they were I was going to take them.
Around ten minutes to 10am I sat at my computer looking at the Ticketmaster countdown to when the sale would begin. Mechelle said it felt like Black Friday without all the busting down of doors and trampling folks and she was kind of correct. It was nerve wracking to say the least, but before I knew it the clock struck 10 and we were off to the races.
Now let me tell you about Ticketmaster. They make you input a captcha code every time you refresh the screen to try for tickets. EVERY TIME! So if you are not a fast on the keyboard or have a problem seeing/understanding that captcha real good, you are screwed.
The first few times I tried to get through they kept telling me that lots of people were shopping and to keep trying. So I did just what the computer said and kept trying. I was focused. I was in my prayer! LOL! “Please Black Messiah grant me some tickets!!” When I finally got through, I was sent to a page that told me I was officially “in line” and not to touch anything. Don’t refresh, nothing, just sit here and watch this clock countdown to when you hit the front to the queue. So I sat and prayed some more. “Come on Black Messiah! We need to see you babe.” There was nothing I could do at that point. Just wait. They made it seem like when the clock got down to zero and your turn came up that you would automatically be shown tickets in your price range, but NOOOO that is NOT what happened. When I got to the front they showed me some high price tix and tried to tell me there were no others in my price range. I didn’t believe them. “Lies!!!” I refreshed again and again and again and then my number came up! OMG! Talk about stress. Then, Ticketmaster gives you a certain amount of time, and not a lot of it, to get your info in the fields before they release the tix back into the pool. “Say what??!!” I was typing like my life depended on it. I got all the way to the last thing, which was the card verification and I almost had a heart attack because they were asking to verify the card, which I didn’t have in my face since it was Mechelle’s and I was like, damn am I going to have to call her to go through this? This is slowing me down!! So I reached out to her and at the same time I just decided to click verify and low and behold we were IN!!!! Never give up people! Never give up! Honestly that was one of the most fulfilling and nerve wracking days of my life, but we were in damn it. We were in!
As we were counting the days to the show we received another crazy announcement. D’Angelo was going to be on Saturday Night live as the musical guest the night before the Superbowl. After seeing that performance, I knew we were in for something really extra special because on SNL he looked and felt so happy and at ease.
|Photo by Amy Rosenthal|
It’s Showtime at the Apollo…
On Saturday, February 7th, Mechelle and I met up to go to the Apollo. We were dressed, but not overdone. Meaning we had not come in the stereotypical, “I might meet the star” outfit. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about. We both had on heels, but manageable for more than an hour, you know what I mean?
When we walked in we saw my girl Ginny at the door. Then right behind her was my girl Mazz Swift along with Marika Hughes and Dana Lyn who had all played strings with D on SNL the week before. We were all hyped and ready to go!
Mechelle and I made our way to the lower mezz and right away I knew we were in the right place. First I see my friend Jon Tortora who might be the biggest D’Angelo fan next to me and Jeff Jeudy, and we ended up somehow sitting right next to each other for the show! Talk about serendipity. Then a few rows behind us, was my friend Kwame and his girlfriend. What??!! Then off to my right I hear someone call my name and it’s was people Ghana Imani and Ewa! Come on! We are in the house for real. The people around us were also very cool, which was good because we were turnt up! Ha!
We settled into our seats, the Apollo made a sort of public service announcement about the venue dos and don’ts, and at about 8:15 or 8:20pm the lights went down and one of the best shows of my life began.
The first thing that came up was that whiney guitar that opens “Ain’t That Easy,” but it was backed by the Khalid Muhammad sermon that opens “1000 Deaths.” That alone had me wide open. Yes I was screaming at the damn interlude! Then D came out in the dark, in a black hat and jacket, walked center stage as the track changed to “Prayer” and he proceeded to sing just with the track, center stage in the dark. Yes Lord! Can you say call to worship? The place was already on fire and from where I was standing I couldn’t even see the man’s face. His voice just took over whole space. He straight up cast a spell and we were all in. Slowly the band entered and took their places as he was singing, and honestly it felt like a dream. We are here! We were there! All of us, together witnessing what I was sure would never be forgotten.
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
When “Prayer” closed and the lights came up and we got to see the band. On the far right was the lovely vocalist & D co-conspirator, Kendra Foster in the most killin’ dress (called the “Black Butterfly” cape dress), which I would later find out was made by my girl, the one and only, super lovely, designer/stylist extraordinaire, Ashaka Givens! Yes! Now we are ready to rock!
|Mz. Kendra Foster in "Black Butterfly" cape dress|
From Mz. Kendra Foster's Instagram page
|Kendra Foster & Ashaka Givens|
From Ashaka Givens Instagram page
Without missing a beat they moved right into “1000 Deaths,” hands down one my favorite, probably top 3 favorite joints on the whole Black Messiah album. Yes! We were rockin’ and rollin’ right out of the gate. That joint was fire! When I first got the album there were a few songs on there that I had to hear live because knowing D, I knew he would expand them or play with them and this was no exception. As he got into the song he took a huge stop at “Oh!” Now I am breathless! And with that I lost my shit. LOL! Are we really here?! Is this really happening?! “OH!!! (pause, pause, pause) “And if I change it to the game before/every time I step into the unknown…” Dayum! It was so on! Necks are broke and it’s only song two!
Out of “1000 Deaths” he went into “Ain’t That Easy.” So right now at this moment I am realizing that the opening soundscape before “Prayer” was the foreshadowing to the following two songs! OK, as I write this I am even more open. Whew. On “Ain’t that Easy” D gets on that same sparking guitar he played on SNL a week before. At that moment I really took notice of the two sparkling guitar players that being D and Jesse Johnson. These dudes were bedazzled and shining real hard. Gorgeous! I really love that Jesse Johnson is on tour with D. I don’t know if D feels this way, but it’s like looking at someone play in a dope ass band with their ridiculously cool ass uncle. “Ain’t That Easy” is another one of my favorite joints on the album. Well, I should probably stop saying that because all of the joints on the album are like my favorite joints on the album. LOL! During this song they broke it down a bit toward the end so Jesse could take a solo as they expanded the groove. Honestly Jesse could have soloed all night and I would have been cool with that. I loves me some Jesse Johnson for a long time.
The band had a lot of great segues that just kept the party going at all times; even when the songs slowed down, but there weren’t too many slow jams happening. It was a pretty much a party all night long. After “1000 Deaths” and "Ain’t That Easy” I realized that although I didn’t come over dressed to the show, I probably should have just worn jeans, a tank top and some sneakers to that joint because I ended up sweating like I was at the club for all the dancing I was doing. Yes, it was like that. So word of advice for those going to the show from here on out, don’t get too cute and stay clear of silk or the heavy sweaters cuz you will sweat through that joint after song one or two.
Let me go back to the segues because in a photo of the set list I found online I learned that the first segue was called “Vanguard Theme.” It was at this point he introduced the band. Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums, Pino Palladino on bass, Cleo “Pookie” Sample on keys & vox, Isaiah Shakey on guitar & vox, Jesse Johnson on guitar, Jermaine Holmes, Charles “Red” Middleton and the fab Kendra Foster on backing vox, and the man D’Angelo on guitar, keys, lead vox and ship captain! I was already in space by this time, but then, he took us father out into the galaxy. Ladies & gentlemen, D’Angelo and the Vanguard!
|Photo by John Tortora|
|Jermaine, "Red" & Sharkey|
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
|Pookie & Pino!|
Photo by D'Angleo Connect
Next song up was one that I wasn’t expecting to hear on that show, and would surely separate the true fans from the newbies who just got hip to D on the Black Messiah wagon. Out of what felt like nowhere he busted out “Feel Like Makin’ Love” the Roberta Flack cover from the Voodoo album. What??!! Of course they remixed that joint for the show and made it extra funky. Then this man had the nerve to take the mic off the stand and start touching hands of women standing in the front! I was waiting for someone to faint for real! I think an immaculate conception or two happened right at that moment. For real D?! Singing “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and touching people? Come on man! You’re about to get snatched off the stage. LOL!
|Reach out and touch...|
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
After jammin’ on this joint for a while he closed the song and the stage went black. D exited and the string track for “Really Love” came up, but as I listened to it I realized that it was a different take than is on the album. On the set list I have it is called the “Claire Fischer Interlude.” Brent Fischer was the arranger of the strings on the album so clearly this was an outtake that didn’t make it on, and it was beautiful. I was a little sad that my peeps who played strings with D on SNL weren’t able to play at the Apollo show, but I understand budgets and it seemed they chose the horns over strings for the show, which made sense because there are more songs in the set call for horns. As the interlude played I kept saying to myself is he going to come out in the hat and cape ala SNL? Well low and behold when he returned to the stage the man had on the hat from SNL and a red and black check cape! Let me tell you something, I lost my shit again! Everything that evening for D in the clothes department was about the accessories. A change of hat, bandana, a necklace, a cape, a jacket, it all was subtle and it all worked. The base was all black. Drop crotch black pants so he could move (and he was moving), a long black cut off t-shirt (meaning sleeves were cut go you can see the guns! Ha!), and black boots. As I said, the rest was accessories. But I digress... He sang the hell out of “Really Love.” I didn’t expect anything less, but once again it was live and that changes everything.
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
From there he moved back to Voodoo and into a remix of “One Mo' Gin.” OK, now once again, this song separated the true fans from the new bandwagon folks. That joint was so amazing that I didn’t know what to do with myself. He started out on the keys, which was the first time he sat down in the show thus far. He took off the “Really Love” hat, but kept on the check cape. He later came down from the piano and that’s when the remix began. Listen, they broke that joint all the way down and he was just singing so sweetly in that damn falsetto, it was like a dag on sex-me lullaby up in that piece. He’s walking back and forth on this crazy slow jam vamp that I’m sure was the beginning of a very good night for some folks in audience if you know what I mean. Shoot, some people were probably getting their foreplay on right there in their seat with their boo of the evening. It was that kind of sexy. The backgrounds were giving a slow sultry, “yeah-ee, yeah-ee, yeaahh, again...again, again...” or some other silky backing vocal. I would also be remiss if I talked about this joint without saying anything about Pino Palladino! Listen. Pino was killing that bass! I mean his touch is so on point it’s stupid. I mean, I know Pino. We know Pino! I’ve heard him. We’ve heard him! I know what that man can do. We know what the man can do! But in so many moments during this show, Pino stood in the cut and politely kicked your bass-ic ass all night long. That is what bass is about. It’s about holding it down. Yes you can get pretty. I love some pretty bass, but at the end of the day keep me in the pocket. Keep it on the steady wave. Keep it rooted in the bottom. That is what Pino did that night. This song was clearly feeling really good to everyone because D sat on the stage and was singing to women where he sat! OK, now you are just showing off. Talking about “makes me wanna walk the dogs with you baby.” Now stop it! Women who ain’t even thanking about being with no man were thinking about reconsidering for D that night. If fact I know there were lots of folks considering crossing over to sides they didn’t know they had in them. Yes, it was like that! Then after that stupid sexy breakdown, these fools (said with mad love) had the nerve to bring that shit backup! See now I’m in my seat cussin’! A girl LOVES a heavy slow jam! It was like having great sex! Like when you slow it down and you get all focused with it, all in the corners of your mind, and then you just start moving a little faster and a little faster till you reach the climax. Are you hot? Yes you are and yes I said it! Yes I went there cuz he took us all the way there! Wet panties all up in the place! Let me tell you something, he could have ended the show right there, but instead he went back to the beginning.
|"One Mo' Gin"|
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
After bustin’ that “One Mo' Gin” nut he moved into “Alright” from Brown Sugar. According to my friend Asa who was damn near in the front row this is when a lot of white folks just sat down. Why, cuz at lot of these new white folks don’t know nothing ‘bout no Brown Sugar. You see, I just lost all my grammar right there. LOL! Let me break this down a bit for you or at least how I see it.
To me, Brown Sugar was for black people in the 90s what Off the Wall was for us in the late 70s, early 80s. I’m not saying D is Michael, so please unscrew your face and hear me out. Both those albums were about the blackness. Off the Wall is still one of my favorite if not my absolute favorite Michael Jackson album. It was for us. Now I’m not saying that Thriller isn’t a masterpiece cuz it damn sure is, but it was very different from Off the Wall. Both Brown Sugar and Off the Wall were pushed on R&B radio so if you were white and listened to that side of the dial then you knew that album and the songs. Yes “Rock With You” made it to MTV, but still that album is very black. I’m not saying that white people didn’t or don’t listen to black radio, but at that time, 1995, you had to be willing to cross yourself over to find out what was happening on the black-hand side, or going forward you had to do your research. So all this to say that when D went to the Brown Sugar side of things, my friend Asa said that some white people in her section has the nerve to say that this wasn’t some of his best stuff. Are you kidding me?! Brown Sugar was everything! That album came in the middle of a mid-90s musical trifecta that was Omar’s first US release For Pleasure (1994) and Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite(1996). D was right there in the midst of what was one of the best periods of R&B/Soul that I know. At the time it was dubbed Neo Soul, which I always hated, but you know how the business works. You always have to dub it something to get the children on board. To me it was just soul and there was nothing “neo” about it except the singers were younger than their influences. The music had all the markings of the artists that we knew and loved. Some of which were still making music at the time. So all this to say that D breaks into “Alright,” and all the heads were in Brown Sugar heaven. [Note: I know there were some rockin’ ladies in the 90s too, but I’m talking about the fellas right now so please don’t get your panties in a bunch. Yes I’m talking to you...with love. Thank you.]
Then keeping in the Brown Sugar mode, after doing a bit of “Alright” they broke into a stupid funky remix of “Brown Sugar.” Again, Pino is masterful on the bassline. Not only did they change the whole line, they also added a bridge, which was a straight up a scat section sort of in keeping with the 40s feel of “Sugah Daddy” on Black Messiah. Can you say through line? See this is why I love this man! On this song the horns joined the band for the first time that night and it was bananas! “Brown Sugar” turned into a party and it was so great to hear a fresh spin on the song that started it all. All the folks who knew, really knew, and the people were on their feet.
After coming out of that party he brought it down a bit and went into “The Charade.” D was back on rhythm guitar and he opened up the end of the song even more for Jesse Johnson to get his solo on. It was great to hear Jesse get more time on the Apollo stage than on SNL. I could talk more about this song, but it is what it is, brilliant. A straight up funky rock jam and it is so damn powerful, both in lyrics and arrangement. I love this joint. After Black Messiah came out a friend called me and said that he listened to the song for 30 minutes straight on repeat. I totally understood and understand.
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
Out of “The Charade” they moved into what would turn out to be one of the first Holy Ghost songs of the night, “Sugah Daddy.” Of course this joint got the extended remix treatment as well and Lord, Lord, Lord, church was had. I don’t know how many times this song stopped “on the 1” and “on the 1 for real” when everyone didn’t stop. And when everyone didn’t stop it was still fly! One time he called for the stop on the 1 and the guitars kept going. I thought it was on purpose and really it damn sure could have been, but after he brought everyone back in and took them out “on the 1 for real” so who knows! That could have just been the signal. Just dope! You thought the party was over and just like when the Holy Ghost hits and the song ain’t over. You know how it is in church. So we are dancing, sweating and having a good time and then he calls the last hits. 1 (bam)... and we jammin’..., 5 (bam, bam, bam, bam, bam)... and we dancin’..., 11 and a half (bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, uh) and we out!
That is how the first set ended. I say first set because the stage went black everyone left and they took a short break. I know some folks might say that when they came back it was the encore, but I don’t agree. I just think they knew that after that joint they were going to need a break. Get some damn water. Sip some tea. Towel off. Change your drawers. Whatever. Even I needed a break after that. I think that’s where I had some water thanks to my friend Jon’s girlfriend Miriam who was sitting next to me. She bought the water for herself and saw how much I was sweating and out of breath that she gave it to me. Bless her cuz I was done. We all got a moment to cool down and then they were back.
|Photo by Amy Rosenthal|
D stared the second set by returning to our beloved Brown Sugar and opened with “Lady.” He did that pretty much to the letter and then moved right into “Back to the Future (Pt.1 & 2),” which is of course another fave on Black Messiah. Once again Pino was killing it. He was walking that line like his life depended on it. Then to top it all off when D got to my favorite verse on of the song, “If you wondering/wondering ‘bout the shape I’m in/ I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to,” he straight up rubbed his belly. OK, time for more true confessions of Shelley Nicole. Drum roll please. I love the big man. I really do. I know a lot of people have been looking for “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” D’angelo, but I’m loving the bigger and seemingly happier Black Messiah D’Angelo. But let me tell you. If he keeps dancing like he was doing at the Apollo through this whole tour he’s going to be on his own Dancing with the Stars weight loss program. Of course they played this one for a bit and D got back on guitar. As they vamped it out the BGs had a funky little “Yeah, yeah, yeah” going, which was fun for the back up to the back up (meaning the us) to sing along with. From this point on it was a straight up party. I mean for real.
|Chris "Daddy" Dave, Isaiah Shakey & D'Angelo|
Photo by D'Angelo Connect
D jumped back to Voodoo and into “Left and Right”, which I was not expecting to hear at all. I don’t know what I was thinking he would do from Voodoo, but I was happily caught off guard, but just when this joint was getting good, they morphed into “Chicken Grease,” which turned into funkiest most blackest musical moment I have been part of in a long, long time! If anyone up in there wasn’t ready for a tent revival I hope they held on cuz we went straight to church up in that bad boy. Between “Left and Right" and “Chicken Grease” and all the clapping of hands and stomping of feet and booty shaking and praising of the Lord and cursing in the name of all that is good, we had run the full gambit of emotions. Jeezzuuss!
On the set list it said the song was called “Chicken Grease/What it Do.” Well it did, what it do for sure. More than any of us could have even imagined. We were fire baptized in that moment. All denominations became one. If you didn’t know you were part of something legendary before, by the time that song ended and the stage went to black, you knew.
After that come to Jesus moment, the band took another break. Some would say that they came back for the second encore or maybe the first. I think it was probably the official break before the end of the show. People in the audience started to leave. Clearly they were not professional concert-goers because rule number 1 is that if the party is right, you don’t leave until the house lights come up. You are sure to miss the best part trying to get out of the venue before the crowd. Oh well. More room for me to dance. LOL
|D'Angelo & Jesse Johnson in the shadows|
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
Third set (Encore)...
According to the set list, the band was supposed to come back and do “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” but when they came back they did another Black Messiah fave “Till it’s Done (Tutu).” Now let me break this down a bit. This is the song I was hoping to hear live. It’s one of those songs that I like so much and feel is too short on the record. Of course it’s fine as it is, but I just wanted it to go on. D added a hat back into the mix and a mid-length black cape situation. As they went through the format of the song I was wondering what they would do to extend it. Well the joint is already a cool mid-tempo, but after getting through to the end they broke that vamp down ever more to a sort of ¾ church double clap vibe. It was like a slow build to the slow down if that makes any sense at all, and when it got there it was soooo black! I know my new white folks were probably really lost. LOL. It was like a Sunday morning church processional up in that piece or maybe this was the recessional before the benediction cuz we were coming to the close of service. This part got so deep in the vernacular and then Jesse Johnson took a solo that was putting us in a spell and it moved right into this crazy, crazy and way too short, but stupid ridiculous, drum solo by Chris Dave. I mean, I don’t really know what happened, but suddenly it just broke wide open into “Untitled (How Does it Feel)!” It was seriously one of the biggest nut busters of the whole night. It was so crazy that Jon and I turned to each other, both with mouths wide open like “What the hell was that??!” and gave each other a high five like we had done something! LOL! Damn!
I don’t know if I really talked about how good D sounded all night. His voice was so clear. I mean he was giving so much while not doing too much. I am not a fan of too much riffing and running vocally on a song. You know I like people to sing me the song. Give me a little, take it back and that’s exactly what D did. He sang the hell out of this song. I mean he gave it all the emotion, all the everything that this song really is, which is much more than him being naked in a video. This song is so beautiful and he just sang it to us. He peeled off his cape at one point, he touched people’s hands, he walked the stage and you could tell he was really feeling it. He seemed genuinely and extremely present to that moment and we rode on his every note. It was magical. He had everyone doing the slow wave of the hand that made me really miss the days of putting your lighter in the air.
|"How does it feel?"|
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
As the song broke down the band started to leave the stage one by one. First Chris stepped off the drums, followed by Shakey, then the forever Jesse Johnson, the singers (Jermaine followed by “Red” and then Kendra), and then “Pooky” on the keys. Finally Pino made his exit and D was left on the piano. As he sang “How does it feel?” he asked us to sing with him one last time. It was truly a benediction. He closed the whole show with just him on piano like it all started.
May the light continue to shine on D'Angelo and all of us. We need him. We need each other. Let the church say amen.
Much love to the young man, his piano and a sparkling guitar.
|Photo by Amy Rosenthal|
|Too Fly! |
Photo by D'Angelo Connect
As you can see I don't know who shot all the photos that I pulled from the web, but thank you to all who have been sharing. I am using these pics in good will. Thank You!