Wednesday night's gratifying 80-minute show opened with "Brown Sugar," the title cut to D'Angelo's 1995 debut. And it closed with the 39-year-old, doo-rag wearing D'Angelo finally coming out from behind his bank of keyboards and showing himself to the crowd on a sweaty, wave-your-hands-in-the-air encore of Parliament's "Do That Stuff." (James Poyser, Mark Kelley, and Kirk Douglas of The Roots joined in. "Of course, The Roots don't know the meaning of not working, so ...," Questlove said, later adding, "Anything The Roots do is for this city to be proud of us.")
The show, a master class in sinewy, minimalist funk and soul, mixed D'Angelo originals like "Lady" with a stunning selection of cover songs by what Questlove called "the Yoda figures in the history of soul." Included were Sly Stone's "(You Caught Me) Smilin'," the Ohio Players' "Our Love Has Died," and the S.O.S. Band's "Tell Me If You Still Care." D'Angelo sang in a limber, swoony falsetto that showed that his years in the wilderness have done nothing to diminish his pipes.
Along with "Do That Stuff," there was also another George Clinton song, "No Head No Backstage Pass," this one largely talk-sung by Questlove, whose never-overplayed attack on his kit pushed forward the lean but powerful arrangements, with D'Angelo playing multiple keyboard parts.
Mid-set, the duo tore the house down with two Prince songs: the irresistibly hooky "Pop Life" and raucous rarity "She's Always In My Hair." After the latter, Questlove paused to applaud D'Angelo's roaring soul shouts. "I got the best seat in the house," he said. "I'm just watching the show with y'all."
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter, @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," atinquirer.com/inthemix.