Janelle Monáe – Koko, London – 8 September 2010

Ten great gigs from 2010: #5

Janelle Monáe performing at SXSW 2009. Photo by Seher Sikandar for rehes creative.

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.

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Since surfacing in 2007, Janelle Monáe has garnered support from Prince, Big Boi and Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Starting her career with a conspicuous image, an android alter ego, a grand concept piece in four “suites” – Metropolis – and a fanbase looking on in awe, there’s plenty to support the suggestion that the world might have gained a new pop icon. 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’.

Her online reputation was cemented by the response to her rip-roaring Letterman debut, where her cape-wearing rendition of lead single ‘Tightrope’ was spectacular bolstered by a full horn section. Her long-ago sold out show at the Koko left her without the luxury of a big band, but didn’t keep her from showing her raw talent.

Before her arrival, the sense of spectacle was upped by the formal introduction by a suited and booted compère and subsequent projection of a filmic title sequence on the back wall of the stage. Despite cutting a diminutive figure, Monáe became the focal point of the stage from her first moment on it, making up for her lack of bodily height with a tower of hair lifting her above most of her five piece band.

Backed by an energetic, uncomplicated band and backing singers, Monáe’s prodigious physical and vocal skills were given a solid foundation in which to shine. Inevitably, the memorable songs were those which relied on her magnetic ability to command the stage, rather than lavish orchestration: ‘Tightrope’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘Sincerely Jane’ were highlights. By contrast, the more nuanced arrangement of ‘Mushrooms and Roses’ (helped out live by an all-too-subtle backing track) was quite stilted.

For what looks on paper to be a high concept show, Monáe’s talent makes for a surprising amount of raw entertainment; whilst the effects were sometimes missing, her performance never strayed. If she comes back with a bigger band, her next UK shows will be even more impressive.

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