Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Janelle Monae at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC

This is how dedicated I am to Janelle Monae – I went to see her open for Of Montreal on a Monday night at the 9:30 Club and am now writing about it at 11:30 at night, even though I have to be a librarian tomorrow morning.

I know I’ve talked about Janelle before here on Filmi Girl but I’ll give you the brief run-down – Janelle Monae is like the best possible combination of James Brown, Mama Cass, and Sun Ra. She has an impeccable sense of rhythm, a big voice, and a flair for the futuristic. I had seen live video of her performing her single “Tightrope” and I just knew that I needed to be at this show tonight, and that isn’t a feeling I get to often anymore.

The audience was mostly hipsters with a smattering of gays and older folk. I was kind of surprised at the overwhelming number of white folk in the audience, since Janelle Monae is marketed as “urban music” (because she’s black, you know), but I swiftly realized that most people were there to see Of Montreal. So, I cheered loud enough for 5 people when she took the stage, dressed in a crisp white shirt and black pants, with her band.

Janelle Monae performs. I mean that in the BEST way possible. She isn’t up there to shuffle through her greatest hits with one eye on the bar and another on potential groupies, Janelle is up on stage to put on a show. The first few songs opened with a bang and while it took the audience a little while to get into it, by the time she hit a solo-guitar accompanied rendition of “Smile” we were in the palm of her hand.

The first part of the set was all stuff from The ArchAndroid, which you should probably just go ahead and order, and I was impressed with the way her band interpreted the songs for a live show. In case you haven’t heard the album yet, it’s a very lush studio production filled with horns, strings, sound effects, and other exciting things you can do on a computer. The songs were pared down for the live set to just drums, guitar (the fabulous Kalindo), keys, and bass. (And the bass player was off the hook - I don’t know who he was but he was amazing.) She also had two back-up dancers/back-up singers. The synth did a decent job of mimicking horns and strings without sounding too empty or fakey but I would love to see Janelle with a band twice as big.

She ended the first part of the set with a tight rendition of “Tightrope” and moved into the second part of the set, which was from her first EP. The songs on Metropolis are less musically playful than on The ArchAndroid but they rock harder, so it was a good choice to end her set with.

Janelle Monae puts on a character and a show but at the end of the day, it’s her musical talent that elevates it from just rock music to something much closer to that awful ‘a’ word… art. The difference between Janelle’s pared down set and the one from Of Montreal couldn’t have been more drastic. The forced whimsy of Of Montreal was like eating a gummi worm after enjoying a delicious fruit tarte – it couldn’t compare.

So, while I wish I could go see her perform again tomorrow, my pocket book and schedule won’t allow it. I’ll just have to live with the memories of her show tonight and hope that we’ll see her again on a stage twice as big, with a band twice as big! (Something I would pay more than twice as much to see.)

I love you, Janelle! Keep on, keeping on! Maybe next time you come to DC, you’ll have time to sit down and do an interview with me. We can talk about sci-fi, sun ra, and getting the perfect pompadour!

(And I think I might write up her sci-fi influences under my other alter-ego "Smarty Librarian" so keep your eyes peeled.)

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