Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Sound of the City

Jesus Saves

I was at Radio City for Q-Tip, who didn't show. R&B Jesus I was just checking out. D'Angelo isn't a songwriter, not really; the Marvin comparisons are the exaggerations of r&b faithful yearning to be led out of the wilderness, and the ridiculously long-aborning Voodoo is self-indulgent and riddled with blank spots. This boded poorly for his stage ethos. Well, I joshed, at least he'll take off his shirt.

D'Angelo did take off his shirt, but I doubt even the girls who went crazy truly needed it on top of two-and-a-half unfailingly generous hours. Blank spots were nonexistent--songs averaged well over 10 minutes, and when they ended the audience had a harder time catching its breath than a band that included superbassist Pino Palladino, Roots drummer ?uestlove, three backup singers with their own lives, and appropriately breathtaking brass: trumpet luminaries Roy Hargrove and Russell Gunn, widely traveled trombonist Frank Lacy, and a sax man from Martinique who spieled in French and looked like Chris of 'N Sync.

I name these sidepeople because the best funk band in the universe deserves some props. On Voodoo, "Devil's Pie" is a touch hokey; with Pallodino vibrating the chandeliers, it instantly established that this was going to be some night. Slow ones started warm and turned torrid; "Chicken Grease" and "Spanish Joint" and "Shit Damn Motherf*cker" were seismic from jump street. D'Angelo sang and danced and preached and flexed and crooned and humped the floor and covered Roberta Flack and snapped a mike stand in two and danced and sang and sang some more. Everything meshed; all stops were pulled out. It was already the greatest concert I'd seen in years when Redman and Method Man propelled the climactic "Left and Right" through the vaulted ceiling. I flashed on P-Funk's "Sadie," Apollo 1981. What a privilege to experience such a thing again.

I saw Marvin Gaye at this venue shortly before he was murdered, and it was no contest. Gaye was fine, but self-indulgent and riddled with blank spots. Totally committed, D'Angelo betrayed neither weakness nor ego--and gave so much Thursday that Friday he canceled with a sore throat I absolutely believe was the truth. He was r&b Jesus, and I'm a believer. Travel to another city to see him now.

Village Voice, Mar. 28, 2000