Are D'Angelo and fire departments around the country in cahoots?
Everywhere the dynamic young R&B; singing virtuoso turns up for a concert, women in the audience scream and wave their hands as if it were Beatlemania again, and fire department reps with walkie-talkies invariably turn people away from the packed venue, including, in this case, Hollywood bigwigs accustomed to carte blanche.
It was no different Wednesday night at the House of Blues where D'Angelo, the most acclaimed R&B; newcomer of the year, was teamed with an another young sensation, singer Joi.
In separate, fervent performances, they drew musically upon everything from Earth, Wind & Fire and Al Green to Funkadelic. Together the dynamic pair recalled two of the '70s most potent movements in black music: knock-'em/sock-'em funk and smooth Quiet Storm soul.
Like the "Red-Hot Momma" of George Clinton's dreams, Joi sauntered onstage with a captivating sense of theatrical flash. Dressed in a towering black top hat, a see-through white bodysuit, stiletto heels and a 10-foot feather boa, she swayed and dipped suggestively to the heavy rhythms of "Joi's Theme."
She then turned to the microphone to let loose a rip-roaring wail that cut through all the rhythmic sonic clutter. Her nine-piece band, faces shrouded with white-paint masks a la the new "Dead Presidents" film, was no less than the rock group Fishbone, featuring noted producer Dallas Austin on keyboards.
With the elaborate introduction out of the way, Joi proceeded through four furious songs, her raw yet elegant voice the perfect match to the band's blistering, guitar-heavy funk. Avoiding material from her excellent but under-rated 1994 debut album, she previewed tunes from the upcoming album including the Santana-esque "If I Could Fly."
But the night, ultimately, belonged to D'Angelo. As he walked across the stage with a pimp-strut and an eager leer toward his vintage electric keyboards, he looked over the audience with the Prince-like confidence of a man in complete control. And he was.
With his tight, six-piece group, he played a mix of old and new songs that showed why he is being called by critics the "Son of Soul." First, there was a playful turn at the Ohio Players' old "Sweet Sticky Thang," followed by the groove "Jonz N My Bonz" from his best-selling EMI album.
But once he played the strains of "Me and Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine," his own eyes closed as he let forth spine-tingling falsetto scats and suggestive growls, he revealed the well-worn tactic that is the secret to his success. Like a mix of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, his vocals were soulful and sweet, sanctified yet lustful. Pure magic.