The 2012 Essence Music Festival kicked off on Thursday in New Orleans, bringing the “party with a purpose” to the Crescent City. This year’s event promised a stirring comeback performance by D’Angelo as well as key sets from stars like Trey Songz, Keyshia Cole and headliner Mary J. Blige.
An impossibly high-pitched “aaahh” ascended from a churchy organ vamp, proclaiming D’Angelo’s arrival on the biggest stage he has played since his legendary Voodoo tour. Clad in rugged boots, leather vest and trademark tanktop (all black), he appeared with a perfect confidence and poise that belied his recently broken 12-year hiatus from the stage.
His performance at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans has been anticipated as D’Angelo’s American comeback, but the reclusive R&B polymath has been unfolding a cautious return. It began this January with a short European club tour, which confirmed that he hadn’t lost an ounce of mojo. He also added a batch of new songs to his repertoire. The Essence show was the first US gig on the books, but he warmed up to his big night by jamming covers with “co-pilot” ?uestlove at Bonnaroo, playing a new song on TV for the BET Awards, and running through a full set – a dress rehearsal of sorts – on the 4th of July at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.
Check out D’Angelo’s Performance Below:
Word is Trey Songz seduced Friday nights show at Essence. New this year at Essence Fest are a pair of super-sized screens that present the mainstage performer in extreme detail (and hugeness.) The effect for R&B loverman Trey Songz – who has an extremely expressive face – was palpable. As his image loomed over the stage like a seductive T-Rex, every charming grin, sexy wink and sweet puppy-dog face was broadcast as if in IMAX. He had the ladies in the crowd in the palm of his hand at the first “I’m ready to make love.” So were they.
“Chapter V,” the singer’s fifth studio album in six years, is due to drop next month, and as expected, he delivered its three singles released so far. Two – “Heart Attack” and “2 Reasons” show a tougher side to Songz, whose high tenor has thus far mostly sung promises of ecstasy, naughtiness and romance over the kind of shimmery, sparkly production that gives the listener the feeling of being inside a champagne bottle. “2 Reasons,” a collaboration with rapper T.I., is full of masculine on-the-prowl braggadocio – he performed a quick snippet of it Friday night, using the radio version of the track in which the two reasons referred to are drinks and (ahem) “ladies.” “Heart Attack” booms with hard-rock drumming, as did the extended jam on set closer “Bottoms Up,” a bombastic 2010 collaboration with Nicki Minaj’s fierce alter ego Roman Zolanski, which the backing band turned nearly metal after Songz quit the stage.)
Songz, and contemporaries like Usher and Ne-Yo, are descendants of a long line of crooning R&B lovers whose stock in trade is the promise of blissful cataclysms of romance. It’s too early to tell who will stand the test of time, but as Songz declared from the Essence stage Friday night, he’s ready to go the distance for the ladies.
“This is my third year doing Essence,” he said, “and I want to let you know that this is my core, this is where I’ll be – serious R&B music.”
He then debuted “Dive In,” the latest single from Chapter V, released only that day. It was, he said, his first live performance of the song, which is a ragingly salacious double-entendre ode to ladies’ pleasure (“We about to get so wet/swimming in your body, let me dive in.”) Later, he employed an audience-connection trick also used by Drake, pointing out crowd members by description (“You with the curly hair, on your phone – I see you!”) and acknowledging them. Before “Heart Attack,” he removed his ear monitor in order to hear the crowd yell, at his direction, that they would not break his heart.
If there were any doubt after that that Songz is committed to give and give, and give some more, it was squashed when he spotted a woman on the big screen holding a sign reading “Give Me Your Shirt.” On the mike, he directed security guards to bring her to the stage, where he complied.
Watch his Essence Performance below: