Thursday, February 12, 2015

D'Angelo and the Vanguard...The Second Coming Tour: Live at the Apollo Theate (February 7, 2015)

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.

First Set...
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.  

D'Angelo & Jesse Johnson
Photo by D'Angelo Connect


Photo by D'Angelo Connect

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. 

"Really Love"
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. 

"Feelin' it!
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!

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

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

Second Set...
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.

Break 2...
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

Photo Credits:
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!

The 12 Days of Black Messiah: Musings on the return of D'Angelo and the Vanguard

When I embarked on the 12 Days of Black Messiah I really didn't know it was going to happen. I was and still am so moved by this album that I had to write (almost) daily from the day the album came out on December 15th. I posted my original thoughts on Facebook, but since I know everyone is not on Facebook I am posting it here too. It is sort of the companion to my review of D'Angelo and the Vanguard at the Apollo Theater (February 7, 2015).

When I originally wrote the posts I didn't do it in album order. I just did it as I was feeling it, but in this space I will put them in the order of the album. On some days I didn't have a lot of time to write, but I still wanted to say something so I did. This is what you will see here. Also I know so much more about the album now thank I did then, but I didn't want to add anything.  So with that in mind, if you didn't get to see them on Facebook, I hope you will take a moment to check them out here and then my Apollo show musings.

If you haven't picked up Black Messiah, please, please do. Don't just get it for free somewhere, actually purchase it. Put your money down. It's 15 years in the making so I know it's worth at least a dollar year and guess what, it doesn't even cost as much as that.

Ain't That Easy
The 12 days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah, day 5. Song of the day: "Ain't That Easy." Let's start of with the George Clinton/Funkadelic-esque vocal, which I learned last night might be scaring the children (for real). Then let's move to when the chorus drops in and you must move something, anything. We got the crazy Prince-esqe 808 clap/smack (that's an 808 right? Nerds please chime in) and if you really listen close the bass is a monster on this joint. Don't know if it's Pino or D, but whatever. Since this is the song that haunted me last night into the morning I sat with it. In keeping with the Messiah theme, I feel like this song is a call to worship. A call to get on board. It is the first song after all. Note the whiny guitar crescendo/fade in at the top (and in the bridge) that kind of sounds like a UFO landing (hello Mothership) and then he starts by saying (and I haven't checked the lyrics for accuracy, I'm just listening) "Take a toke of smoke from me as you change inside/Let your day slip away come with me tonight." Now I know what the brotha it talking about, but what is he saying? So the ship comes down, he's telling you to take a puff of the smoke and get on board, then the smoke clears and he says, "You can't leave me, it ain't that easy, to walk away, when I want you to stay." We tried to walk away. Well some of us did, but we are still here. It ain't so easy to walk away from D. It ain't that easy.

1000 Deaths
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah. Song of the day: "1000 Deaths." I heard this song long before this album came out. It was one of the Questlove leaks that hit the streets years ago. When I heard it then I was floored. I mean really I think I just sat there with my mouth open because I was like, "What in THE hell am I listening to?" When I heard it back then it didn't have the Khalid Muhammad intro talking about, "When I say Jesus, I'm not talking about some blond haired blue eyed, pale skinned... cracka Christ! I'm talking about the Jesus of the bible with hair like lambs wool!…Jesus the black revolutionary messiah!" Uh, YEAH! Talk about fire from the top! Those of us who were living in NY when Khalid was really running things remember that fire well. I have my own theories about his death, but I'll just stick to the album for now. The instrumentation/production on this joint is so dense, and it feels like a battle cry. When I got my hands on the lyrics I learned that it's exactly what it is. It reads like D in the fight for his life and for his space on a musical landscape that tells us music is just for the kids or if you are out for too long no one is going to care when you come back, and where older black artists are often put out to pasture. "I can't believe I can't get over my fear/They're gonna send me over the hill" This was the only song that I looked at when the lyrics were released because I HAD to know what he was saying and well, damn! This song is everything! This bass line is so CRAZY especially in the chorus (well I guess more than the bass is playing it, but I'm feeling that bass so much), and the deep rumble that happens every 16 bars just rolls up the spine. Just that one rumble kinda blew my wig back. The way this song bounces, the pulse just rides through your body, and if you close your eyes you can hear the tambourine rocking with the drums. The keys, guitars, everything damn thing. This song is just perfect to me. It's just masterful. It's EVERYTHING!

"That is the Lord!
I won't nut up when we up thick in the crunch/
You know a coward dies a thousand times/
But a soldier only dies but once/
Once, once!"


The Charade
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah, day 7. Song of the day: "The Charade." I had a whole lot say about this song musically. The fact that it's one of two joints on the album with the sitar, but used so differently than it is on "Another Life," the Linn drum machine smack shows up again and it's probably the song that made Prince the most mad when he heard the album (cuz you know he's mad). But as I look at all that has happened here in Brooklyn in the last 24 hours this song really spoke to me. I'll let D speak for himself. Stay woke people. Don't let the matrix draw you in. Look inside and know the truth. Use your first eye to see through the veil. That is all.

The Charade:
Crawling through a systematic maze
And it pains to demise
Pain in our eyes
Strain of drownin', wading into your lies
Degradation so loud that you can't hear the sound of our cries (doo, doo)
All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we will lay on
Inundated by media, virtual mind fucks in streams

All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers
With a faith at the size of a seed enough to be redeemed (doo doo)
Relegated to savages bound by the way of the deceivers
So anchors be sure that you're sure we ain't no amateurs

Sugah Daddy
The 12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah Day 4. Song of the day: "Sugah Daddy." There are so many reasons to love this song. The Andrew Sisters/Pointer Sisters 1940s throwback swing/jazz vibe in the chorus, the killin' piano, but for me it's the James Gadson hambone at the top of the track. Come on man! It's hambone!

Really Love
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah, day 6. Song of the day: "Really Love." I don't have a lot of time today as I am running a little late getting to the studio to finish my own masterpiece, but I will say this. Strings + Spanish guitar + the sultry voice in your ear + doo wop (snaps, style of singing) = lots of babies being made or at least a lot of practice. "When you look at me/open up instantly/fall in love so quickly/Doo, doo wah/I'm in really love with you." Talk amongst yourselves.

Back to the Future (Pt. 1)
"If you're wonderin'/wonderin' bout the shape I'm in, I hope it ain't my abdomen that you're referring to." ~ Back to the Future (Pt.1) ‪#‎BlackMessiah ‪#‎LyricsFromMyHappyPlace

Till it's Done (Tutu)
Now back to your regularly scheduled ‪#‎BlackMessiah program. Song of the day: "Till It's Done (Tutu)." I know this song may not be at the top of the list for folks, but this song is haunting me today. It's one of those that I know when it's done live is going to kill. That change at the end that just fades away is like a pied piper wake up call to action. This song is. ‪#‎CarryOn

12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah. Song of the day: "Prayer." I know I missed a day, but Lillie the elf took over my page. I was powerless to her will. LOL

Anyway, we are back on the train and although I missed a day it's OK. I realized that I was somehow behind in my numbers since I actually have three songs left to put my two cents in on. So let's get to it. This joint is a straight up mediation. D jumps the whole joint off with the Lords prayer (which if you listen close if really a choppy vocal as if it was purposefully cut off), the guitar is crazy, that Linn drum smack is back, and there is a church chime going through the whole song. The whole things feels/reads like a loop even though there is a change when the chorus comes, but for me if feels like a mantra. It's the chime. Well at least that's what it is for me. Remember D is a PK (preachers kid) and although I'm not PK I know the space from which he is speaking. We know what he's been thought. Maybe not first hand or even second, but we know. You know I'm holding a candle for a brotha and keeping a prayer for him in my heart. "You got to pray..."

Betray My Heart
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah, day 8. Song of the day: "Betray My Heart." Let's just state the obvious and get it out of the way. The whole joint is just hi-hat & rim shot (except I think the snare gets one roll out of the bridge) AND the bass is walking so hard that it's damn near giving you the screw face. To me this brings a whole new meaning and feeling to drum & bass. This songs swing is so lovely that you could Lindy Hop all day to this joint! Oh, how can I forget Roy Hargrove killing the trumpet once again (a la "Spanish Joint" on Voodoo). Then on top of that the sentiment of the song is so sweet. Ah... I'm back in my happy bubble. "I will never betray my heart."

The Door
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah, day 9. Song of the day: "The Door." I know when some of ya'll heard this you were confused. I, on the other hand was like, "hell yeah!" It took me directly to Taj Mahal and one of my favorite songs, "Fishin' Blues." But the whistling took me right to my girl Maritri Garrett who is always whistling on a tune, and now both are making me mad that I can't whistle to save my life. LOL Also the slide guitar and bass on this joint are killing; and upon further listen I'm trying to figure out if the percussion on this joint is just foot stomps, hand claps and tambourine? Are there any drums at all? Is what I think are foot stomps really the kick or both? Also something is tapping double time, but I can't figure that out. It almost sounds like they left a click in, but that can't be it. Can it? This is the kind of song that has a sing along/whistle along feel that is up and happy, but the lyrics are a warning of sorts. "I told you once, but twice/you wasn't very nice/In your hands you held my life/I told you once, but twice my love/don't lock yourself out that door/No, no, no, don't lock yourself out that door." Now you know what a brotha is talking about. Don't hedge your bets honey cuz I love you, but keep acting up and you could be out of my life in the blink of an eye. The other interesting thing about this song is that there are a whole gang of lyrics listed in the liner notes that never happen. So I'm wondering what happened to those takes. Could they end up on the vinyl? The saga continues...

Back to the Future (Pt. 2)  
Well after a trial to get home to my peeps, I can now bring you the 12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah day 10. Song of the day, "Back to the Future (pt. 2). It's a reprise and a throwback to James Brown or the Isley's who always had a pt. 1 & 2 to a bunch of their jams. Who doesn't love a reprise? Also note the skip at about :11 into the song for those of us who are old enough to remember when the record might skip right when the joint was jumping. Speaking of vinyl, do I smell a 12" in the future? Let the music play!

Another Life
12 Days of ‪#‎BlackMessiah. Song of the day: "Another Life." This 12 days of "Black Messiah" has taken a few more than 12 days, but in the spirit of D that makes total sense. I saved the last for last, and I think this song should just be called "Life" because it's giving me so much of it. During this "Black Messiah" rundown many of you have been shouting out this tune above all others. Much like "Really Love" I bet there will be lots of baby practice happening to this tune. So let's just start at the top with Quest dropping his signature snare and in comes the piano, bass, guitar and electric sitar.

Let's just talk sitar for a minute. Remember it showed up before it "The Charade," but in a whole other way. This time as soon as I heard it I was thinking that it was the sound from, "Betcha By Golly Wow?" Of course I was quickly corrected that it was actually from the Stylistics jam, "You Are Everything and Everything is You." For me this song is all about the piano. D is KILLING the piano on this joint. I mean he'll start playing it percussively and then he'll just switch to rolling over the keys, or tinkling in the higher registers. It's kind of crazy when you just pull out the piano. I would love to just hear the piano track on this joint, or even piano and vox. The single rhythm guitar hits just moving through the chord changes is such a part of the solid foundation for this piece. It's the slow drag pop of the hip. Remember slow dancing? Then every once in a while you will hear the lead guitar spill like a waterfall to add just a taste of color. Can we talk about Quest on the drums on this joint? I mean really? Come on Ahmir Kalib Thompson (Questlove) you are KILLING IT! I know what this man can do, but for some reason on this joint, maybe it's the combination of all the elements happening, this song is just perfect. I know I said that about "1000 Deaths" yesterday, but I have to say it again today. Masterpiece! First and finally what really makes this song, or is the glue so to speak (at least for me) is D's vocals and the BGs. Good God! He is singing is face off! I mean by the end you have to raise a hallelujah hand or find a damn lighter for this joint. This song is a straight up testimony service that turns into a full on outdoor tent revival. This has to be one of the best vocals on record. I know that's saying a lot considering how many dope ass vocal recordings there are in the world, but I'm putting this one in the pile. I have listened to this song so many times and EVERY TIME I am moved. EVERY TIME. This song opened me right up. It touched a place in my soul for real. After first hearing this song I was so moved that I had tears in my eyes. It is the energy of the composition. There is a spirit up in this joint. A real, live healing spirit. Ashé.

Well kids, that concludes the 12 Days of #BlackMessiah. It's been great! I'm glad that along the way I made some converts and met some fellow followers of the Church of D. I hope Quest is wrong when he joked about seeing us again in 2025, but if that's the case I'll be alright if in 2025 we get another masterpiece like this. Make your art people and take the time you need. The world is waiting.