Monday, November 18, 2013

The Electric Lady Janelle Monae pumps high voltage into the Ryman

Midway through her Sunday night set at The Ryman, Janelle Monae hoisted a black and white striped stick and jabbed it in the air in the direction of two of her crew members, mock knocking them out right on stage.

They weren't the only ones Ms. Monae knocked flat by evening's end.

On a night when lightning cracked and rain poured down in torrents, it came down to Monae to thunder across the Ryman stage and dazzle what was undoubtedly one of the most vocal crowds this building has seen in a long time.

Janelle Monae's spirited performance lit up the auditorium.

The secret to Monae's success is her innovation. Most artists, at only two albums in, are still perfecting and tinkering with their ideas on stagecraft. There's little doubt Monae will keep evolving as well, but as this point in her career The Electric Lady tour is boasting some impressive visuals and outside the box thinking. The set began with a guy in a white lab suit guy announcing that Monae was an android who was a patient at their institution, and explained that sometimes they let her out to free roam. They wheeled her onstage strapped to a dolly wearing a straightjacket, Hannibal Lecter style.

Once unbottled, Monae was a firecracker. She's a very expressive performer, employing dramatic facial expressions as well as plenty of high powered dancing and shuffling around. Opening number "Givin' Em What They Love" gave Monae an early crack at showing off the dynamic power of her pipes, as her voice gloriously pierced through the Ryman's airspace whenever she hit a high note. Later, she punctuated an energetic performance of "The Electric Lady," by leaping into the air at the end of the final verse.

The only thing that could have made the set better was if it was more tightly constructed. Each song is full of so much energy, then after a good portion of the songs the lights would go out for two or three minutes while they would presumably tinker with some piece of equipment or Monae would run for a costume change. It would be better if they could keep it freer flowing.

Monae shows off her dexterity while her guitarist busts a move.

Yet as it turned out, the main set was not even proper preparation for what was coming. The big jaw dropper came during an extended mix of "War of the Roses," which lasted upward of 20 minutes. After finishing the main part of the song, the bassline kept going while Monae broke out her zaniest antics of the evening. She moonwalked, broke out some more dance moves, led the audience in a call and response sing along, Cab Calloway style, initiated a contest to see who in the crowd had the best black and white colored outfit, and even tried to sneak away from the lab suits by hopping offstage and traversing through the crowd for a bit.

She tied it up neatly by closing with "What an Experience," an emotional gospel tinged piece, in which she selected a winner in her costume contest from out of the crowd and invited her to come up onstage, along with a small girl from the audience. Monae packed a killer setlist, an electric sense of showmanship, and threw a few curveballs out there to give a bold and breathless performance. Her sense of innovation is leading her to do it ways that may take even seasoned concertgoers by surprise.
Related post:

Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady album review 

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