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D’Angelo, Essence Music Festival 2012: Singer Channels James Brown With Funky Set

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Either D’Angelo doesn’t realize how long he’s been gone and how much he’s changed, or none of it matters to him — a notion that would certainly be commendable. The industry-darling-turned-industry-recluse has been on a tear, doing a run of shows since the start of 2012 and trying to whittle a position for himself within today’s music business. On Friday night (July 6), he performed at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and channeled James Brown in his stage mannerisms.

The Voodoo creator performed in all black, sporting a fedora, leather vest and black boots. He opened his set scatting and freestyling with riffs, and his band and backup singers blended in with whatever melodies he put forth.

Even after 12 years of absence, D’Angelo has maintained the honeyed vocals that would make any R&B fan give pause. He’s still a skilled instrumentalist as well. More than once, he jumped up from the keyboard to grab a guitar, and then from the guitar, he postured against the microphone. Several times during his set, D’Angelo incorporated the godfather’s signature spins and turns.

The crowd was hesitant to accept that the soulful, vulnerable singer they fell in love with more than a decade ago had developed into this funk-inspired — but still very much vulnerable — artist unopposed to adding a full rock ‘n’ roll jam session in the middle of his show.

The crooner teased with a few of his better known tracks — from “Devil’s Pie” to “Lady” — but “Brown Sugar” was notably missing from his set list. Thankfully, “Untitled” made the cut, and the audience collectively sighed in relief, recognizing a sliver of the D’Angelo that they used to know.

Watch D’Angelo Perform “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” at 2012 Essence Music Festival

Watch D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” Video
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