When D’Angelo strode down the aisle at the Bank of America Pavilion Tuesday night, with a smile on his face and two backup singers by his side, it almost felt like a mirage. His fans have probably dreamt of that moment more than they’ve actually seen it happen.
Here’s a guy whose myth and mystique have grown more potent than the two celebrated albums of neo-soul he has released in a career launched in the 1990s. D’Angelo hasn’t put out an album since 2000’s “Voodoo,” and his low profile, to the point of making him seem like a recluse, aligns him with Lauryn Hill, another star from that era who virtually vanished after a taste of success.
Then, out of nowhere, D’Angelo announced a few European tour dates earlier this year. That morphed into the new co-headlining tour with Mary J. Blige that brought D’Angelo back to Boston on Tuesday.
Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo
He sounded good. Really good. Backed by a 10-piece funk band that included four singers, it was a solid performance — not quite a showstopper, but an admirable effort that suggests he’s ready to get back in the game.
He kept his flow nimble and strident on a scorching rendition of “Brown Sugar,” and he tucked behind a piano for a ruminative take on “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” The screams were as loud as they must have been when the audience first saw the R-rated video for that song back in 2000.
Depending on which rumor you believe, D’Angelo will release his long-awaited third album any day now. At the Pavilion he gave a sneak preview of new material. “Sugar Daddy” crash-landed somewhere between Prince and James Brown, complete with grunts and groans. It was a promising sign that D’Angelo might be out of the woods once and for all.
No other R&B singer exudes that kind of resilience and strength quite like Blige. Her triumphant closing set was a roller coaster ride — highs tempered by the lows, introspection blown apart by moments of soulful euphoria.
Blige hit hard with brisk renditions of her hits that have spanned two decades: “Family Affair,” “Real Love,” “Love No Limit.” On “Empty Prayers,” from her latest album, she turned down the theatrics for the evening’s most low-key but cutting line: “I tried my best to keep you here/ But it’s hard to hold a shadow.”
Other times Blige got so lost in the emotion that the songs became something else entirely. “No More Drama” worked as both an ode to self-empowerment and an exorcism of bad love. Her shrieks were otherworldly.
She then mentioned that she’s had a “hellified year,” but was quick to remind you she’s never one to wallow in her pain: “I’m a soldier, baby!”