“Girl, it’s only you, have it your way,” sang D’Angelo, alone onstage after playing the first few keys of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” on Saturday night at the Essence Music Festival. Amid screams from the packed Superdome audience, the R&B singer stood up from his piano and walked to the front of the stage, teasing the crowd and blowing kisses. Smiling at their eagerness to hear the rest of the hit song that both empowered and objectified him the beginning of his career, D’Angelo returned to the piano for one verse before thanking his fans and beckoning his 10-person band back to the stage.
Dressed in black, including a leather vest and fedora over what appeared to be the beginnings of locs, D’Angelo ran through hits such as “Brown Sugar” and “Voodoo.” “Chicken Grease,” “Devil’s Pie” and his Roberta Flack cover of “Feel Like Making Love” kept the festival crowd on their feet, but it was his 15-minute rendition of “Sh– Damn Mutherf—er” that cemented his artistic prowess and made fellow R&B singers Michelle Williams and Letoya Luckett of Destiny’s Child groove in their seats, along with newcomer Luke James. The romantic “Lady” prompted couples to two-step, like actor Anthony Mackie and his longtime girlfriend. D’Angelo’s closing cut, the new “Sugar Daddy” (which he also played at the BET Awards), reminded his fans that his new album, whenever it comes, will be just what they’ve been missing.