"All we wanted was a chance to talk
‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk."
Oakland needs a win. Rent is too high, food is too fancy, helicopters are too loud and many in the sky. The air is thick with 40 years of hoping and another black man was shot and killed by the cops in broad daylight yesterday morning. It was on Lakeshore and none of the media reports add up. And neither does this game. Everyone is aching with an all too familiar pain. But it’s opening night for D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s Second Coming Tour and no loss can stop the spirit filling up The Fox.
The lobby feels more like a family reunion than strangers feigning fellowship. People exchange hugs, buzzing with a childlike excitement shared by Bay Area musicians Martin Luther, Mara Rhuby, HNRL and Goapele. In spite of the backdrop of madness, everyone is in the mood for a love song. People start to chant “D-ANG-ELO” moments before The Vanguard appear on stage, dancing beneath hues of purple and blue light. They begin to play “Aint That Easy” as D’Angelo struts from the shadows in a cream fedora and textured trench adorning a black and silver glittering guitar. But we aren’t here to marvel at an outfit–and as his voice hits the air, we are reminded of why we came.
“We’re gonna do this for Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant and a lot of others that we don’t know the names of. This is for us.” D’Angelo’s words resonate with a city in perpetual mourning as The Vanguard’s spirited live rendition of “The Charade” offers a much-needed salve. People are dancing together in crowded aisles, joining in call-and-response chants and disrupting the scripted roles of audience and performer. And while D’Angelo isn’t overly nostalgic, he invokes the likes of Prince and James Brown with every signature guttural grunt (“uh!”). #BlackMessiah knowingly emerges from a rich musical tradition and simultaneously invites us to dream, to imagine a brighter day and to dare to manifest it. After all, “Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”
Well-versed in the art of anticipation, D’Angelo seems to bluff a closing that turns into two encores making the uncertainty worthwhile. A slow and playful walk back to the mic, now fitted in an electric blue fedora reveals his love for subtle theatrics. As “Untitled (How Do You Feel)” begins to play, the roaring crowd, D’Angelo and The Vanguard blend into a euphoric chorus united; however temporary, in song and sweat.
And as the music inevitably fades and we head for the exit, let us not be naïve as to what awaits us. The world still aches from this morning’s headlines, this city is still at war with itself and so are we. If we are to reduce music to mere entertainment, we miss the point of its power entirely – to transform, to disrupt, to awaken and to redefine life itself. That work; however, isn’t up to D’Angelo & The Vanguard, it’s up to us.
Originally posted on Okayplayer.