D'Angelo has no shortage of lost time to make up for.
The Virginia soul man, who played a sweaty, muscular, unrelenting nearly two hour show at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside on Tuesday, has been more absent than present during his two decade career.
After emerging with his debut album Brown Sugar in 1995, the singer born Michael Eugene Archer struggled with writer's block and took five years to release its follow-up, Voodoo.
But that was nothing compared to the layoff - elongated by alcoholism, and personal problems - between that classic of sultry, simmering funk and its successor. Black Messiah finally landed like a most welcome surprise Christmas gift last December, well timed for its socially conscious relevance to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The obsessively tinkering auteur had returned to the stage in 2012 before he let loose of Messiah. That summer, he opened for Mary J. Blige at the Mann Center, and played the inaugural Made in America festival. and the following summer he did a tantalizing two man show at the Theatre of Living Arts with his longtime compadre, drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of The Roots.
But the show at the Keswick - 'Black Messiah' in the Philadelphia suburbs - was something different. With new music out in the world and a fantastic nine-piece new band, The Vanguard, to show off D'Angelo was like a man freed from self-imposed constraint, finally able to strut his tuff in all his funkalicious glory.
This was not the retiring, not quite sure of himself returning soul man spending most of the show hiding behind his keyboard, as he did when returning to the stage three years ago. This was a front and center exuberant-and-exultant showman, who keep counting off the beat to the vise-tight band in an ongoing James Brown homage while bedazzled in a series of tricked out flowing robes and cock of the walk flat brimmed hats. For a while there, it seemed like he was aiming to out costume-change Taylor Swift.
The emphasis was on Black Messiah, though he also reached back as far as Brown Sugar's ecstatically erotic title cut, with it 215 inspired opening verse: "Let me tell you 'bout this girl / Maybe I shouldn't / I met her in Philly and her name was Brown Sugar."
That song naturally paired with the new album's "Sugah Daddy," which, like everything throughout the night, was stretched out, funkified and elaborated in an arrangement that was energetically reworked on the spot. Opening with "Ain't That Easy," a love song that could be about the creative precess, D'Angelo repeatedly took that improvising showman's approach and took the hyped up crowd to church, switching off from guitar to keyboard to falsetto, the 41 year old son of a Pentecostal minister prowling the stage with a physical presence more akin to a bruising middle linebacker these days than the ripped cornerback who went shirtless on the Voodoo album cover 15 years ago.
The can't stop-won't stop celebration showcased guitarists Isaiah Sharkey (with whom D'Angelo carried on a dazzling scat singing call and response conversation on "Betray My Heart") and Jesse Johnson (who was dressed in a trench coat in the style of McGruff the Crime Dog) and a trio of singers, in particular Kendra Foster, the George Clinton-Funkadelic alum who is a key songwriting collaborator..
There moments of socially conscious seriousness, particularly with Black Messiah's "Charade," which features as concise and chilling of a condemnation of racial injustice in a song couplet as you're ever likely to hear: "All we wanted was a chance to talk / 'Stead we only got outlined in chalk." In introducing the song, D'Angelo led the crowd in holding Black Power fists high, and dedicated both to "the lives that were lost in Charleston last week" as well as African American men who have died in police violence in the last year, including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddy Gray.
Did the show have a flaw? Black Messiah is a subtle record that rides a richly complex, often whispery groove. That inward looking vibe was opened up and turned into a raucous, invigorating adventure in communal release that looked to be even more replenishing for the singer's spiritual well being than it was for the audience's. Dynamically, it could have benefited from a few of the quiet moments of vulnerability that are another of the D'Angelo's strengths. But there will be time for soul searching in the future: This show was about the soul man stepping out, and taking to heart the opportunity to make up for all up for all the good times that he's missed.