D'Angelo, Paramount Theater, Oakland, Calif., April 5
Paramount Theater, Oakland, Calif., April 5 Believe the hype. Believe the word when it's delivered in a magnificent, neon-emblazoned Thirties show palace in the heart of a decaying downtown. (Sound familiar?) Oaktown, homey to the Raiders, Jerry Brown (for president), and a predominantly black population hungry for a hot, steaming slice of D'Angelo. On the first of two sold-out nights, 3,000 of the Port City's loudest and proudest, with help from some of the brothers, feasted on the insatiable R&B dynamo, and after his jaw-dropping, two-and-half-hour soul revue throwdown, they'd gorged themselves till they were too full to clap. They ate all the pie. Went home with smiles on their sweaty upper lip and D'Angelo running down the sides of their mouth. When the lights went down and their shriek went up, didn't take no doorstop to figure out that the papier-mâché pyramid towering above the spotlights and fog was for sacrificing hostesses rather than their drivers, who could be heard rumbling props beneath the shrill cries even if this outrageous ******* had come to steal their booty. From them, D'Angelo wasn't taking anything but "Oh God, yes!" for an answer, even if it took 12 black-robed and hooded figures standing on and around the mountainous stagepiece to know the congregation was in for some serious Voodoo. As with the 26-year-old sensation's second release, "Devil's Pie" set the tone for the evening, its powerful bassline seemingly responsible for the lift depositing band members onstage through the temple's white-lit doorway. Once the whole of the "Soultronics" were onstage, a sixpiece anchored by Roots beatmaster ?uestlove on drums and augmented by three horns plus a trio of backup singers sporting feathered headdresses, boas, and tribal face paint, D'Angelo got down to bidness: He took his coat off and stepped into his voice. Over the screams, the singer's croon beat out his biceps for the center stage spotlight, his light tenor moving from a slinky Al Green to the high-register falsetto of Prince. Paired with astonishing charisma, and moves like sliding across the stage then rearing up on his knees to exhort a timeless "Heh!," D'Angelo was James Brown, Sly Stone, and the Gap Band rolled gold. "On the one," he'd command, like Maceo Parker sweating out the fonk. "Send It On" and the slippery "Chicken Grease," both from Voodoo, as well as "Smooth," from his stunning 1995 debut Brown Sugar, were foreplay for the climactic "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker," which all but tore the roof off the place in classic George Clinton mode, D'Angelo twice leaping into the seats, tearing off his black wifebeater for some serious bump 'n' grinding, and eventually smashing one of ?uestlove's cymbal stands in an explosive burst. At the 50-minute mark, suddenly there was darkness and confusion. Was it over? 'Course not. Returning in a new white T, D'Angelo was sitting at the keys taking a stirring soul turn on "One Mo' Gin" when the lights came back up, and for the next hour would alternate between long, slow jams and long, hard jams, all the while enticing the ladies at center stage to grope at his low-slung baggies. At one point, he got too close and they shredded the shirt right off his broad black back. Roberta Flack's sinewy "Feel Like Making Love," which live replaced Voodoo's Roy Hargrove on trumpet for Russell Gunn on French horn, set the stage for the Spanish Joint/Saturday Night at the Apollo storefront setpiece that made the burning Seventies funk that followed all the more surreal. "Shit is off the hook!" exclaimed a convert, one row back from the local-living Meshell Ndegeocello. And he wasn't lying; by the two-hour mark, the house had given it up. All up. By the time D'Angelo's entourage emerged in white robes for the 30-minute encore, singer shouting, "Oak-town, you ready for some 'Brown Sugar?'" all one could do was look on in dumb amazement as the Soultronic gang slathered on the money groove with granulated sweetness. Having mercy on his exhausted lover, D'Angelo ended the evening with 15 slow-moving minutes of Voodoo's penultimate closer, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," which featured the whole band, one by one, ascending to the top of the stage, then descending down below it on the riser -- leaving the master of ceremonies alone at the keyboard cooing over and over, "How Does It Feel?" How'd it feel? Like raw, skin-peeling sex. Like shit was off ... the ... hook!