Each year in early July, the city of New Orleans welcomes fans of R and B, soul, and gospel music to flood its streets and enjoy three days of empowerment panels and concerts at Essence Music Festival. Listeners of all ages can take to the Mercedes Benz Superdome and find something they like, be it budding stars like yesterday’s blues-infused Gary Clark Jr. performing at one of the festival’s Superlounges, 70s and 80s family-trio The Pointer Sisters kicking off the main stage headliners, or Trey Songz, a radio-friendly artist who makes young girls and their mothers scream uncontrollably as he slowly disrobes on stage with each passing song in his set.
After The Pointer Sisters, last night’s main stage headliners shifted to Keyshia Cole and Trey, the former of which was likely booked to help promote her new BET reality show and upcoming album since she’s been on hiatus from making music while starting her family with husband, NBA player Daniel Gibson. Woman To Woman, Cole’s fifth studio record, is expected to be released in the Fall. Trey too has an upcoming album to promote; also his fifth LP, the August 21st release is aptly titled Chapter V. The highlight of the evening, however, was a set from neo-soul crooner D’Angelo.
After being reclusive and not releasing music for almost twelve years, the gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has resurfaced. Staring with a show at Le Zenith in Paris back in January, D’Angelo then accepted an invitation from ?uestlove to perform with The Roots at Bonnaroo last month and just last weekend, made his first televised appearance in over a decade with a set at the BET Awards.
Before passing the baton to closing performer and veteran singer Charlie Wilson, D’Angelo set fire to the EMF stage, playing piano and guitar as he showcased his vocal range almost effortlessly. With back-up from some of the industries best – Jesse Johnson on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass, and Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums – D’Angelo tapped into his jam-rich, funk sensibilities, performing Voodoo-heavy songs like “Playa Playa,” “Chicken Grease,” “Devil’s Pie,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” and “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” the song whose notorious video triggered a self-conscious downward spiral for the singer. Omitted from the set list was fan favorite “Brown Sugar,” replaced instead by a new song called “Sugar Daddy,” one that he also performed for BET and will likely land on his upcoming, yet-to-be-titled album.
Beloved but still estranged, D’Angelo’s dynamic set fell a bit flat on the Essence crowd last night, but should in no way be attributed to deficiencies. For his superfans, it was a enchanting experience wherein he looked and sounded phenomenal. But because the Essence Music Festival boasts such a wide range of talent, it’s hard to please everyone in attendance at the Superdome, especially if you don’t have a recognizable single of classic hit. One thing remains certain though: D’Angelo is finally back, and performing even more skillfully than he did in the past, that new album can’t come soon enough.
Additional reporting done by Mjeema Pickett