As support act and stand up comedian Kojo astutely pointed out, most people at the gig irrespective of their love for R&B had a morbid curiosity to see if D'angelo had turned into the musical equivalent of Marlon Brando, a genius tormented by demons who ended up fat and washed up.
I am happy to confirm that rumours of his demise have been exaggerated. What does he look like? Well before he had the physique of a point guard. Now it looks like he could bench press the shit out of you.
And what of that marvellous and unique voice? Has 10 years of abuse dulled its glory? Good news is that he could still read you his shopping list and make it sound like a marriage proposal.
D'angelo wasn't helped by the fact that the sound at Brixton Academy is habitually terrible. If there are more then three instruments playing at once the bass splatters out like a greasy turd and the mid-range sounds like its been played through crumpets.
First up is Playa Playa featuring D'angelo's new band The Testimony featuring long time collaborators Pino Palladino on bass and guitarist Isaiah Sharkey. In the gloom it takes a while to realise that D'angelo is keeping everyone waiting an extra song as he sings his parts from back stage. When he come out he is dressed in what seems to be a direct homage to Tina Turner in Mad Max. Leather bin liners are all the rage apparently. Its not quite the impact of the gothic entrance of 2000 when the whole band came out in black hoods to the sound of ghostly chanting.
If I'm perfectly honest the first half of the set was slightly anticlimactic compared to the barn storming 2000 gig. This is due partly by the bar being set incredibly high, partly to the sound gremlins and partly to the introduction of new songs like Ain't That Easy, an up tempo guitar based number that by D'angelo's standards is fairly conventional.
Its still great stuff though. An urgent funked up version of Feel Like Makin' Love its about as far from the Roberta Flack original as you can get without being a different song. Devil's Pie includes snippets of Sly Stone and sees D'angelo in full rock mode. Live he has come so far from the laid back cat hiding behind his Fender Rhodes during his first tour. On Chicken Grease D'angelo gets to Jump Back Jack with Sharkey bashing out an incessant Papa's Gotta Brand New Bag lick. As funky as a box of frogs.
New song Charade will undoubtedly bring comparisons to Prince sounding like a B-side to Around The World In a Day with its Fairlight keyboard counter melody. It improves with multiple hearings.
Next up an inspired cover of perverts anthem I've Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body) from Parliament's The Clones Of Dr Funkenstein. It's dirty as hell and was supposedly the direction D'angelo was heading with new album James River. The truth isn't as easily pigeon-holed. Confirming D'angelo conversion into Jimi Hendrix type showman he harmonises a guitar solo with lead guitarist and ex-Time axe man Jesse Johnson who from a certain angle is a dead ringer for Prince.
The chord structure segues perfectly into a 20 min long half tempo version of Shit, Damn, Muthafucka complete with extended band solos. It seems his 80's collaboration with Mark Ronson on Glass Mountain Trust has rubbed off on him as there are some retro keyboard sounds in the mix. There is a bit too much noodling for my tastes and the world really doesn't need another 5 minute drum solo.
Next my favourite part of the show. D'angelo ditches the band and sits alone at a raised piano and starts to play snippets of songs in much the same vein as Prince did during his residency at the 02. We get jazzy versions of Brown Sugar, Jonz In My Bones, Spanish Joint, Me And Those Dreamin' Eyes, Cruisin', One Mo' Gin and Lady with D'angelo harmonising with the crowd who sing along in the background. There are no distractions, no frills, just some back to basics piano. It sounds amazing. He ends with a verse of How Does It Feel? and the crowd go wild as he stands up and threatens to recreate the X rated video. He sensibly sits back down and he is hilariously wheeled away like a contestant on Blankety Blank.
For the encore we get a couple more new cuts. Another Life starts off sounding like an old Donny Hathaway track but goes all operatic with its unusual scales and ascendant chords. It can be filed as "experiment succesful". My pick of the new tracks is Sugar Daddy / where D'angelo lays down a gospel groove with some funky piano chords a-la-John Legend. It's like being in church and clapping away with one hell of a funky minister. Not that I go to church. But I have seen Sister Act. Only with lyrics about taking your panties off.
To end we get a demented version of Brown Sugar speed up to a tempo that James Brown would approve of especially as it contains elements of The Payback. JB's spirit is alive with about seven false endings
"You want some more? You want some more? You want some more? Good God!"
With a "Goodnight Brixton" the crowd file out into the frozen streets warmed by the fact although D'angelo may not be the hardest working man in show business he certainly is Mr Dynamite.