tue 16/07/2024

Janelle Monae, O2 Brixton Academy | reviews, news & interviews

Janelle Monae, O2 Brixton Academy

Janelle Monae, O2 Brixton Academy

Monáe brings Metropolis to life on her thrilling and yet meticulous new tour

Passionate: Janelle Monáe liveThomas Bocker

Before Janelle Monáe even materialises at Brixton’s O2 Academy, her presence is already felt in the stagecraft. Lab-coated, bow-tied techies unsheath the instruments from their black covers, revealing a glimmering monochrome set-up in the centre of a giant white cube reminiscent of the "Q.U.E.E.N." video. Three - count ‘em, three - men see to the polishing of Monáe’s microphone.

The build-up is every bit as meticulous as the stunning 90 minute set that’s to follow.

When Monáe does appear, she’s wheeled onstage in a straightjacket. Across her early EPs and albums The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, Monáe has crafted an elaborate conceptual line around an alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather leading a rebellion in a dystopian future where artificial intelligence and time travel are realities. The translation of this into a live pop show could easily be overwrought or dry, but Monáe brings it to life via the occasional humorous set-piece with her band - such as being carried offstage mid-song, and even playing dead for a few minutes before being electrically revived and stumbling through a stunned dance. There’s also an exploding confetti cannon during lovers’ croon "Primetime", a cheeky bit of crowdsurfing and a section in which Monáe succeeds in making almost the entire arena sit on the floor before the show descends into a mass pillow fight. 

You'd be a fool to miss the opportunity to see her walk the tightrope live

Monáe is the most passionate performer you could hope to see live in 2014. Channelling Prince and Michael Jackson (both of whom she also covers), and shuffling through a spectrum of sci-fi-tinged R&B, rock, soul and jazz, she moonwalks all over the audience’s hearts with a vocally flawless performance and extended solo dance sequences to impassioned yells of “Janelle! Janelle!”. The love in the room for her is deafening, especially when she pauses the set to hold up signs emblazoned with “Bring Back Our Girls” (for the 274 girls currently missing in Nigeria), which she then passes out before making a speech about fighting for love and equality. This is undermined slightly by the fact that it’s used as a neat segue into "Cold War", but Metropolis is never too far away throughout the show.

There’s a moment of the extended call-and-response game Monáe plays with her audience, during the denouement, when she’s literally lying on her back onstage, tracing shapes with her feet in the air like a child and scat-singing to the audience in the circle above the stage. In this second, it seems that she’d quite literally be happy to keep doing this forever; later on she confirms it, as she’s warned about being past curfew yet assures the audience “we’re gon’ play ‘til they kick us out.”

There’s a magic line being trodden here, between putting on a meticulously crafted and choreographed show and retaining a real natural, improvisational connection with a moment and a crowd. Monáe consistently stayed on that line, and that’s why you’d be a fool to ever miss the opportunity to see her walk the tightrope live.

Monae succeeds in making almost the entire arena sit on the floor before the show descends into a mass pillow fight


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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