D'Angelo Sound Academy, Toronto ON, May 31

D'AngeloSound Academy, Toronto ON, May 31
Photo: Kevin Jones
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Without massive fanfare, D'Angelo graced Toronto with his presence. It's been 13 years since the reclusive soul man's last album (Voodoo), and there have been career ups and downs (including various substance and legal indiscretions) but with the soul star at the Sound Academy, in the flesh — a bit more than in his "Untitled" music video, but who's caring — it's like he never left.

Even the customary complaints — poor sight-lines, less than adequate sound — couldn't stop the R&B/soul star from having a good show in Toronto. Casually clad in a black hat, black pants and cut-off black and white tee, let it be said that Michael Eugene Archer still had it. The soul man from Richmond, Virginia was a transformative "neo-soul" force back in the Brown Sugar days and his absence from the spotlight has been missed. It's been reported that D'Angelo's disappearance from the mainstream spotlight was partly due to his struggles of constantly being seen as a sex symbol. This night saw a poised showman, comfortable in his skin, engaging in the standard concert banter ("I love you Toronto," "Where my ladies at?" etc.) and aware of the fact that his musical output stands on its own merits.

With a relatively simple nine piece set, featuring the always-dangerous Chris Dave on drums and legendary touring bassist Pino Palladino, D'Angelo was either with a hot pink guitar in hand or on keys, and didn't miss a beat or step on Voodoo and Brown Sugar LP tracks like "Cruising," "Lady," "Brown Sugar," "Spanish Joint," "Chicken Grease" and "Shit Damn Mothafucker." Doing slightly remixed versions of his hits might have slightly put off fans wanting more faithful versions, but far be it for folks to complain: the audience sing-along portions for "Cruising" and "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" were particularly on point, as was the funky audience participation ("Shake your hands like this!") for "Chicken Grease."

Outside of the odd collaboration and guest spot, D'Angelo's musical output has been sparse in recent years. James River is the purported working title for his forthcoming Questlove-produced LP, but judging from the cuts he unveiled last night ("Really Love," a track that first leaked back in 2007, and "Sugar Daddy") D'Angelo is showing why he's arguably the most influential R&B artist in modern memory. But D'Angelo's back, and for many, that's all that matters.