D'Angelo

D'Angelo (Photo by Gary Miller/WireImage / September 13, 2012)

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that the man who’s taken 12 years-and-counting between albums would be running late.

Yet I was still shocked when long-dormant R&B singer D’Angelo took the stage Thursday at United Center nearly two hours after LiveNation indicated he would and said goodnight after just a 30-minute set. Shortly into her performance, headliner Mary J. Blige noted that D’Angelo had had an “emergency” and had been unable to get to the venue on time. I hope everything is OK with him. I also can’t help but feel disappointed that the man who delivered the best concert I’ve ever attended, a two-hour-plus soul-funk extravaganza at the Chicago Theatre in July 2000, only offered a snippet of what he can do.

That said, a half-hour of masterful showmanship is a lot better than nothing, and in his brief appearance D certainly didn’t seem distracted by whatever emergency had occurred. He led a 10-piece band through the same loose yet tight funk jams that made the 2000 show such a blast—if you’ve never seen footage and only know his albums, you don’t know what you’re missing; do a YouTube search—delivering lively, danceable takes on “Brown Sugar,” “Chicken Grease” and “Lady” as well as a mini-sing-along on the piano to “Cruisin’” and a piece of “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” during which he recognized the hooting crowd’s implicit desire for him to recreate the famous video. Now beefier but by no means fat, D’Angelo didn’t take it off, but he earned several drama points by milking the crowd’s enthusiasm.

After “Lady,” that was it. No new material. No live horns. No recognition of the set’s shortness. The man’s voice still sounds great, and he can still own a stage and a mic (he’s not a bad guitar player either). Obviously I’d love for him to release the follow-up to “Voodoo” soon. And now it’s especially essential for him to come back to town and give Chicago the full business, not just the sampler platter.

Earlier in the night, opener Starshell made little to no impression, but she was followed by an impressive set from Melanie Fiona, who should lose the rehearsed intros to every song and just let her voice and material stand for itself. We didn’t stay for Mary J. Blige’s entire set, but she kicked off with a powerful party of a take on “Ain’t Nobody” and didn’t let up, dancing and strutting as if her high heels/knee-high boots were no impairment at all. It seems safe to assume that after each show she’s searching for not just real love but a real foot massage.

mpais@tribune.com

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