D’Angelo made the most of his improbably belated debut on Saturday Night Live. The neo-soul auteur reportedly decided to rush the release of last year’s stunning Black Messiah, his first album since 2000′s masterful Voodoo, in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. He used his first network TV appearance since The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2000 — and first overall since the BET Awards in 2012 — as a powerful megaphone for his album’s deconstructed R&B and its skeptical, humanist worldview.
D’Angelo and his band the Vanguard first performed “Really Love,” a flamenco-tinged Black Messiah highlight that proves the unwitting pinup of 15 years ago can still be every bit the crooning romancer. When they returned, it was for “The Charade,” gale-force psych-funk that turned heads when the album first surfaced in December with its lyric, “All we wanted was a chance to talk / ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk.” Though the rest of Black Messiah is rarely so readily legible (D’Angelo isn’t holding out himself, or anyone, as that messiah), he drove home its underlying theme of equality by wearing a hoodie, while his scorching band dressed in black T-shirts reading “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter.” How does it feel?