Rarely does Saturday Night Live serve as an international platform for a musician to make a statement, but D’Angelo changed all of that the second he showed up.
Black Messiah, D’Angelo’s first record since 2000’s career-defining Voodoo, was rushed into a late-2014 release (after nearly a decade of delay) following the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The album was an immediate, incendiary hit with critics, many of whom had already published their Best of 2014 lists. (Black Messiah also topped the Voice‘s 2014 Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, published in January.) D’Angelo was clearly missed, and while passionate displays of bass-led affection have defined the standard of his performances, his SNL set tapped into something direct, divine, and heartbreakingly poignant as the first hour of Black History Month came to a close. Most artists have an album to hype or a television program or movie to promote when they’re booked on SNL, but D’Angelo appears less interested in capitalizing on his resurgent popularity than in getting out the message of Black Messiah.
First up: “Really Love,” a smooth and sensual pick that serves up aural bedroom eyes via strings and Spanish guitar. The Vanguard, the band D’Angelo’s tapped for Black Messiah and its inevitable touring efforts, including a February 7 show at the Apollo, couldn’t strike a bad note if they tried, with backing vocalist and co-writer Kendra Foster providing the perfect foil to D’Angelo’s sleek falsetto. The last ten seconds delivered one of the most exquisite dynamic breakdowns that stage has ever seen, the band so tight and in tune with one another that their ease from loud to soft could’ve easily been mistaken for a sound guy accidentally leaning on the volume knob. That’s not the sound guy turning down D’Angelo and the Vanguard; that’s D’Angelo and the Vanguard schooling us in musicality in a way we’ve rarely seen on late-night television.
Lovely as “Really Love” was, “Charade” is the epic performance that viewers will refer to after SNL‘s 40th season comes to a close. The wardrobe change was enough to get people to pay attention: D’Angelo wore his hood up, there was a chalk outline of a body on the floor at his feet, and the Vanguard band wore “I CAN’T BREATHE” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” T-shirts. They integrated the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest motions into their dancing. These gestures formed an undeniably moving statement of solidarity with Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other victims of violence whose deaths have brought race relations back out of the shadows.
The searing solos and resonating chorus of “Charade” worked into a meticulously crafted frenzy, but D’Angelo’s belt of the chorus — “All we wanted was a chance to talk/’Stead we’ve only got outlined in chalk” — is the lasting sentiment here. The raised fists at the end and the strong, somber mood following the final notes of “Charade” packed just the heavy punch it deserved. This is how you maximize the platform you’ve been given for a cause you’re passionate about. This is how you get people to pay attention when you’re slotted between lighthearted sketches filled with Super Bowl jokes. And this is how you get the message across when you’re about to embark on a year of touring behind your latest opus.
As for the internet, nearly everyone had something to say about D’Angelo’s Puss N’ Boots/Darkwing Duck ensemble. This is why we can’t have nice things, people.
In short, “naaaailed it.”
— Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor) February 1, 2015
Thx bb we know.
Hey music bloggers that live in Brooklyn, D’Angelo is on SNL. I know, I know, none of you have cable, but just a heads up.
— Jake Fogelnest (@jakefogelnest) February 1, 2015
Nick Carter was feeling it.
Welcome back @TheDangelo
— Nick Carter (@nickcarter) February 1, 2015
As was Mary Lambert.
D’ANGELO. I CANT. Unreal.
— Mary Lambert (@marylambertsing) February 1, 2015
Nahhhht the same.
#SNL Wow Beverly D’Angelo pulled off a surprising neo soul / R&B performance last night. Completely changed since Nat Lampoon VegasVacation
— jkramone (@jkramon1313) February 1, 2015
dangelo the only man id sleep with who still wears cornrows.
— Tracy Clayton (@brokeymcpoverty) February 1, 2015
But really though we’d be OK with this.
cancel the rest of snl and let d’angelo keep playing instead. no offense to snl
— Amber Eeeeeee (@rare_basement) February 1, 2015
— Wayne Carter (@WayneCarterRad) February 1, 2015
And now for the outfit commentary: First of all, where’s the dude from the Voodoo cover?
Watching SNL from last night, didn’t realize that was D’Angelo. He’s so… Clothed.
— Stephanie (@ChiSportsGal) February 1, 2015
Dangelo looks completely different….still love his music…but I can’t get over how he doesn’t look like himself from voodoo days
— Tiara yeenKNO (@Sexi_Happi_Chic) February 1, 2015
EXCEPT HE’S GOT AN AX INSTEAD OF A SWORD GET IT
D’Angelo…….. went up there looking like the African American Zorro
— Jawjuh Peach (@NrdLovnNetta) February 1, 2015
The poetry of the poncho is apparently a thing.
Gonna have to start rockin that D’Angelo hat & pancho for my next poetry!
— Tony Medina (@PoetTonyMedina) February 1, 2015
— Afroanna Puffington (@BabylonSista) February 1, 2015
…OK we see it.
— Future Statistician (@Linwood_M) February 1, 2015
Was that D’angelo or Darkwing Duck? #DAngeloOnSNL
— Carlos Chavez (@OsoFreshFutbol) February 1, 2015
And this too.
— Jameson2 (@do_epic_things) February 1, 2015
Looks like D’Angelo hired Puss n Boots as his stylist for his #SNL performance. All he was missing was the feather.
— Thirty Tween Talk (@30TweenTalk) February 1, 2015
Your logic is not sound because we’re pretty sure watching D’Angelo read the dictionary would still be scintillating.
The only way I want to see D’Angelo perform is on a porch, sitting in a rocking chair like in the Raphael Saadiq ‘Be Here’ video
— Alex Rest (@Alexandtherest) February 1, 2015
And now for the Super Bowl campaigns: PLENTY want Perry bumped from the halftime show in favor of Black Messiah.
— Justin Rent (@iamrentman) February 1, 2015
Is it too late to have D’Angelo do the Super Bowl halftime show instead of Katy Perry?
— Sam Myrick (@sam_myrick) February 1, 2015
We review every live musical performance on Saturday Night Live every Sunday.