Janelle Monáe has announced herself, since her 2010 debut ArchAndroid, as one of the most dynamic and exciting artists in the world today. Her studio work operates far outside the regular sphere of RnB, and conveys her genre-flitting, sci-fi tendencies into an enthralling, stimulating concept. The ArchAndroid was a concept album that basked under an umbrella of afro-futurism, centering on a rebel android from the distant future, and bringing together myriads of guest appearances from a huge range of artistic styles, amalgamating a concept that was compellingly cerebral and infectiously fun. Follow-up LP The Electric Lady did not fall short of the bar set by her debut, either, and was good enough to be recognized in our top 3 albums of 2013. Considering this, the prospect of seeing her live was a thrilling one, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Well before I arrived at Manchester Academy I was fully aware this was going to be unlike any show I’d been to before. Once inside, and I’d laid my eyes on Monáe’s explosive monochrome stage set up, I was positively effervescent. The Electric One was wheeled out to a hankering crowd by her ‘Doctor’, who promptly deposited her straitjacketed state in front of her mic stand. She didn’t remain unconscious for long, though, once the bassline of Givin Em What They Love had woken her from her dormancy. The first ‘proper’ track from The Electric Lady had opener written all over it from the first time I’d heard it, and was the perfect track to raise the proverbial curtain on what was without doubt going to be a spectacular show.
For the next 90 minutes we were treated to an excursion across an impossible array of styles. Monáe took us through 1960s girl pop, to infectious guitar funk, via sci-fi RnB and a giddy brand of jazz. The setlist was top heavy with a selection of tracks from The Electric Lady, including the sensationally catchy Dance Apocalyptic, the swagger-ridden, attitude-laden Q.U.E.E.N. and Electric Lady itself, all showcasing an abundance of different strings to her laudable bow before we were even half way through the set. Monáe naturally channels a number of her dizzy blend of influences, with respectful nods to Prince, James Brown and Lauryn Hill to name but a few, but her take on I Want You Back and ABC channeled Little MJ so strikingly it was prodigious. This is an artist who has earned overwhelming acclaim from some of the biggest names in music, and its impossible not to see why. Monáe’s vocals are flawless, with the range of a cruise missile and the soul of Bill Withers, and her presence on stage makes the show as much a visual spectacle as a musical one, right from the monochrome stage and band to the Little Richard quiff and frenetic dance moves. Make no bones about it: this girl was born to perform.
Janelle Monáe is hardly an unknown anymore, but the fact that she is still playing relatively small venues is testament to the fact that she still isn’t appearing on as many radars as she should be. She could easily captivate a much larger venue and have them just as firmly in the palm of her hand as we were last week. By the time she had had some fun in an encore that lasted almost as long as her original set, she had covered Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy expertly, churned out the gorgeous Primetime, managed to command the entire venue to sit down whilst she walked amongst them, and finished the spectacle off with a gigantic pillow fight. This was a show that could have entertained anyone, and an emphatic vindication of the acclaim that she has generated since her arrival in 2010. Without doubt a genuine master class, and a flawless show. Catch her if you can, and check out the show’s setlist here.