D'Angelo Stages a Rowdy, Funky Protest at Warehouse Live

D'Angelo & the Vanguard
Warehouse Live
June 17, 2015

D’Angelo makes protest music.

It’s not blatantly outlined and described as such, but throughout every wail, every jerk of D'Angelo's body, and every moment where he shouts commands for a crowd to eat up — it's all in protest. When he lists the names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and “the other names we can’t forget,” it is him being as direct as possible in regards to protest: protest of unnecessary deaths, protest of love never winning the body over, just flat-out protest.

Wednesday night, as part of his "The Second Coming" tour to promote his stellar late 2014 release Black Messiah, D'Angelo once more took the stage in protest. The outside world was scrambling trying to figure out why someone would shoot and kill people inside a church in Charleston, S.C. The world packed inside Warehouse Live, the sweaty, shouting and cheering kind, was watching a master at work, a preacher who riffed in those same spastic jam sessions you’d find at a Baptist church.

Backed by the The Vanguard as the official church band, D'Angelo's sermon lasted for two hours and 15 minutes. You weren’t permitted to stand still; The Vanguard wouldn’t let you with elongated twists on D’Angelo classics such as “Left & Right” from Voodoo or Black Messiah's “Sugah Daddy.” Background vocalist Kendra Foster praise danced during tracks, her body and smile telling that even if she heard this sermon every night, she’d never get tired of it. He called on the spirit of other preachers before him, crafters of protest music such as James Brown, for inspiration as he made everyone come down off the somber and incredible high of “The Charade” to let loose, shake the demons and pains away.

A decade ago, the faithful who had sworn by D’Angelo thought he was never coming back. We had twisted him into a sex symbol who thought all we wanted from him were the ripped abs from the “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” video and not much else. He went into seclusion, learned how to play the guitar and apply more to his trade. His time away turned him into a showman, one who bent mike stands at his every whim, who offered hand-claps and asked a crowd full of sweaty bodies who couldn’t do anything besides stomp, clap, roar and juke if they wanted to go.

“Y’all ready to go, Houston?” he asked in the midst of a fury onstage. “Hell no!” they replied, building to a cheer that was as deafening as any rock show ever held within this box-shaped cathedral. Every sound The Vanguard emitted, whether it be the jazzy cool of “Brown Sugar” or the sound before the storm that is Black Messiah opener “Ain’t That Easy,” caused seismic shifts. If D’Angelo beckoned for the world to join him “Back In the Future” before running off on a near ten-minute procession of guitar, drums, wails and adlibs, the world came running with him with ease.

D’Angelo makes protest music. Whether it be in a black wifebeater and thin dreadlocks swaying from underneath a tightly wrapped bandana, or in that cool Urban Cowboy getup he premiered for a national television audience earlier this year, his idea of protest comes in many forms. He can protest the denial of love when it’s right there in your face (the crowd-pleasing “Really Love”). He can protest how much his libido can woo any woman in an audience by stalling and teasing them until women melted for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)." Whatever mood suited him, nobody was going to deny it. Nobody wanted to leave. D’Angelo could have looked up to the funk godfather Prince and played for five hours and nobody would have cared. Damn work, damn an early morning, this was church for the night and the sermon needed to be heard.

It’s a wonder to realize that Black Messiah’s most memorable track; “The Charade” is the one that most fits the times. It may outline itself in less than flattering terms about how the world views the psyche and life of man, but it’s rather eternal: “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 was a single black-power fist shot into the air, bold and beautiful during its conclusion, a multitude of similar tributes flaring upward to join it.

“The Charade” is simple. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. It may have taken D’Angelo years to transcribe that message to a strong faithful, but he's known it for a long while. We all have. We just needed to hear it as loud as possible.

It Ain’t Easy
Betray My Heart
Spanish Joint
Really Love
The Charade
Brown Sugar
Sugah Daddy

The Door
Another Life
“Back To The Future
“Left & Right
“Chicken Grease

Till It’s Done (Tutu)
Untitled (How Does It Feel)

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell