Ten great gigs from 2010: #5
Since surfacing in 2007, Janelle Monáe’s most notable fans have included Prince, Big Boi and Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Starting her recorded career with a conspicuous image, an android alter ego, a grand concept piece in four “suites” – Metropolis – and a considerably impressed fanbase looking on, it’s hardly a surprise that Monáe (according to Metacritic) has churned out the most universally acclaimed debut album of the year.
And the praise isn’t unjustified: The ArchAndroid bursts with drama, with songs so diverse in style that there’s something there for every pop fan – be it the storming ‘Come Alive’ or the smoothly grand closer ‘BaBopBye Ya’. All things considered, there’s plenty to support the implication that the world might have gained a new pop icon.
Her online reputation was cemented by the response to her rip-roaring Letterman debut, where her cape-wearing rendition of lead single ‘Tightrope’ was spectacularly bolstered by a full horn section. Her September show at the Koko sold out well in advance, and although it left her without the luxury of a big band, that fact didn’t keep her from showing her raw talent.
Before her arrival on stage, the sense of spectacle was upped by the suited and booted compère who introduced her, before a filmic title sequence was projected onto the back wall, to the strains of her album’s opening overture. Despite cutting a diminutive figure, Monáe mesmerised the crowd from her first moment on stage, making up for her lack of bodily height with a tower of hair raising her to six feet tall.
Backed by energetic backing singers and an uncomplicated band, Monáe’s prodigious physical and vocal skills were given a solid foundation on which to show off her charismatic vocal styles, alternately pure and vicious. Accordingly, the memorable songs were those which relied on her magnetic command of the stage, rather than the album’s often lavish orchestration: ‘Tightrope’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘Sincerely, Jane’ were highlights. By contrast, the more nuanced arrangement of ‘Mushrooms and Roses’ (provided only by an all-too-subtle backing track) was quite stilted.
For what might have looked on paper to be a high concept show, Monáe’s talent made for an unexpected amount of raw entertainment; whilst the arrangements were sometimes lacking, her own performance never strayed from excellent. If she comes back with a bigger band, her next UK shows will be even more impressive.