mon 14/10/2019

Janelle Monáe, KOKO | reviews, news & interviews

Janelle Monáe, KOKO

Janelle Monáe, KOKO

Does Kansas's tin woman need to find a heart?

Janelle Monáe or Cindi Mayweather? Only time will tell.Atlantic Records

The video for this Kansas fantasist’s new single shows Monáe in harshly lit close-up singing the adrenalin-charged “Cold War” directly to camera. But then halfway through the song her concentration goes and she starts laughing and then crying, leaving one wondering what the thinking was behind its release. Perhaps this “artist and business woman” (as she describes herself) deduced that such a curiosity would get people talking and therefore watching - and she was right: it’s had over a quarter of a million hits so far.

Or perhaps she just thought it was time to augment her cold robotic persona with a she-has-feelings-too persona. So, which Monáe did a highly expectant Camden crowd see at KOKO last night? To cut straight to the chase - because support band Wolf Gang were an Aha-meets-Ultravox abomination - Monáe’s set began as her debut album The ArchAndroid begins, with a woozy sampled string section segueing into the propulsive and edgy “Faster”.

Within minutes Monáe’s masterpiece of a quiff was shaken loose by the ferocity of her performance, so that she had to leave the stage for a moment to re-sculpt it. A version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” followed, which was a chance for her to demonstrate her impressive range and tonal control as a vocalist. Performed with nothing but some tasteful jazzy guitar chords from Kellindo Parker, it was the first high point of the evening.

But Benjamin was really only in his element when he was playing notes that only dogs can hear, wringing sustained Prince-like solos from his instrument whenever Monáe went off into one of her James Brown dances, which was during just about every song. The band were only a three-piece (drums, guitar, and a guy doubling on keyboards and bass) but they created a pretty impressive wall of sound. Inevitably the highlight of the evening was the closing two songs, “Cold War” (without laughter or tears) followed by the greatest pop song of the 21st century so far, “Tightrope".

Needless to say this small band - even augmented by a couple of backing vocalists - couldn’t do full justice to the latter. For one thing, “the classy brass” that puts the icing on the cake of the record was just a low-in-the-mix sample which sounded like it was coming from underneath a pillow. But such compromises must be a sign of the crumbling-music-industry times because this was the second time this week I’ve reviewed a gig in which only the bare minimum of musicians were there to deliver the goods.

And talking of Caitlin Rose, it might be pertinent to compare her to Janelle Monáe in another respect too. Yes, I know they couldn’t be more different musically, but it’s interesting to note that they also couldn’t be more different in how they related to their audiences. Ms Rose couldn’t stop talking to the crowd at the Windmill on Monday night. But as far as I was aware, Ms Monáe didn’t say a single word to us last night. Those tears in the “Cold War” video may have been an indication of a living, breathing person behind the performer’s wide-eyed mask, but for the moment Janelle Monáe seems more comfortable to just give us her alter ego, the android messiah (don’t ask) Cindi Mayweather.

The final song of the encore was the turbo-charged Cramps-like rocker “Come Alive”, which - in an embarrassingly contrived way - begs the question: what would Janelle Monáe be like if she came alive? There's no question that last night she gave the kind of consummate performance one might expect from a graduate of the New York American Musical and Dramatic Academy, but I wanted to fall just a little bit in love with her, and I didn’t. To sum up: Monáe and her band performed at us, not to us. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be back for more.

Overleaf: watch the video for "Cold War"

 

Within minutes Monáe’s masterpiece of a quiff was shaken loose by the ferocity of her performance

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Comments

Decent review but harsh. You must have missed the bit where the 'robotic' Monae come out to meet some of the fans and sign stuff after the set. The guitarist isn't Andre 3000 either, by the way - it's just a lookie-likey. And a lookie-likey of Benjamin's look of about seven year ago at that. So that was little bit shoddy. But you are right about the brass.

I adore the ground that woman walks on but... You are spot on about being sung "at". I didn't feel she particularly responded to where she was, was evidently pleased anyone had turned up or that she was actually having much fun. She has her show and The Show is set in stone. That said, she was still amazing, I'm glad I got to see her and maybe that's just her persona.

Indeed I did miss the bit after the gig when Monae can out to sign stuff, Santiago79 – I had to get home to write this review! As for musician’s dressing up to look like more famous musicians; isn’t that a bit like impersonating a policeman? Surely there should be a law against such things?! And to be honest, even if it had been Nelson Mandela under that Andre 3000 wig, I wouldn’t have even be able to tell from the distance I was from the stage.

gig was good but the band were too small and there were far too many terrible rock guitar solos and well, too much rocking out in general. not enough time given to the other parts of her music. not quite the masterclass in performance i was expecting. she was amazing. the band, less so, and therefore, the gig less so too.

But Howard, surely that doesn't mean you just make it up! If you made such an effort to rush home surely three seconds of online research shouldn't have been past you? Monae even shouts his name out to introduce his solo on 'Cold War', just to help you out a little bit more! And who says he's impersonating anyone? Is Andre 3000 impersonating James Brown then? Kellindo Parker is a well-respected musician, along with half of the rest of his family, after all. One of this solos in particular was fantastic and brought the house down... I thought the band were fine, most of the solos mentioned here are on the albums anyway so people shouldn't have been surprised.

You seriously went through that whole gig thinking Andre 3000 was Monae's guitarist? Hilarious! He doesn't actually look anything like him.

"some tasteful jazzy guitar chords from OutKast member André Lauren Benjamin" I like how you've gone on wikipedia to check the full name of a guy who wasn't even there! Anyway, she's completely nuts and talented, in equal measure. I enjoyed the performance - she is amazing, although some of the bad dancing from her backing dancers was a little distracting. She will be big.

Four years later I can't believe this hasnt been edited to correct the Andre 3000 thing. Still shoddy - look up info about the band, doesnt matter if you have to get home to write the review - check deets first?

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